The More Things Change . . .

The January 6 assault upon the Capitol occurred, in part, because the mob was encouraged to believe that the presidential election was sufficiently close to conclude that it could be undone by compromising the vote of the Electoral College (EC). That belief is ignorant of and flies in the face of a 7-million popular vote margin by the winner.

In turn, the error of the mob’s belief is also exacerbated and fed by the need of the national media to emphasize relentlessly “battleground” states as the arena where presidential elections are determined. That, of course, is an observation that conveys a truth about the Constitutional system but also promotes the distortion that the EC foists upon the reality of the electorate’s decision making.

The capacity of the American electorate for tolerating voting inequity and distortion is not, one hopes, infinite. Gerrymandering among states and at the national level by the EC have drawn extensive criticism.

The capacity of the American electorate for tolerating voting inequity and distortion is not, one hopes, infinite. Gerrymandering among states and at the national level by the EC have drawn extensive criticism. State-by-state reforms of gerrymandering are piecemeal and often ground into unrecognizable form by way of fierce political opposition and legal challenges.

In 2000, the Democratic candidate received over 543,000 more votes than the Republican but lost the EC by 271 to 266, based upon a 537 popular-vote margin in Florida. With 270 EC votes as the bare minimum, this result reflected the worst distortion by the EC system. In the 2016 presidential contest, the Democrat received about 2.85 million more votes than the Republican but lost the EC 304 to 227. The 2020 national campaign recorded a 7 million popular vote margin for the Democratic victor and an EC result of 306 to 232, or a result very similar to the 2016 outcome.

The EC so distorts the results – just like a state gerrymander – that the candidate who wins the popular vote may not be the same as the one who is named president. In 2000, 5 EC votes separated the victor based upon a popular vote of 537 in a single state. That startling fact, however, has not moved the needle to make a change.

The presidential election of 2016 was, in fact, the result of a popular vote margin of some 190,000 in 5 states that delivered 75 EC votes to the final tally to the candidate with several million fewer popular votes. In 2020, the Democrat victor won some 7 million more popular votes but the EC contest was delivered by a far lesser margin of about 278,700 votes in 6 states for 73 EC ballots to produce the outcome. In these two instances, while the final result comported with the popular vote, 2020 experienced a challenge directed at the few marginal EC states that produced the ultimate result.

The two decades of experience have witnessed increasingly intense political campaigns for the White House prize and, in the process, contributed to fomenting increasingly bitter rhetoric. At the same time, the concentration of the candidates of the major parties have focused upon a small set of states in the electorate in which to focus efforts. That phenomenon has displaced a dialogue with the nation as a whole in exchange for a contest of EC margins that detracts from the interests of 155 million who voted in 2020.

The tables below graph the data demonstrating the marginal differences that have produced two presidents, one contrary to popular vote results and one consistent them. The data are, however, instructive with respect to the extremely narrow EC distortion of popular vote results as well as cognizance of the political intensity and energy consumed by the two campaigns.

In the 2016 presidential election, the Republican garnered 306 electoral votes and the Democratic candidate 232, despite a popular vote margin of nearly 3 million for the Democrat. The table below reflects a cohort of states that contributed 75 electoral votes, the margin of difference, to the Republican candidate.

 

State

Electors

Democrat Republican

Margin

WI

10

1,382,536 1,405,284

22,748

MI

16

2,268,839 2,279,543

10,704

FL

29

4,504,975 4,617,886

112,911

PA

20

2,926,441 2,970,733

44,292

Totals

75 11,082,791 11,273,446 190,655

Three of the four 2016 states repeated a contribution of 46 EC votes to the margin of 73 in 2020. The popular vote margins in these five 2020 states were also remarkably similar. Yet, while millions of votes separated the ultimate winners, the EC margins did not reflect those results.  It’s as though the presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 were conducted in arenas detached from the rest of the country.

 

State

Electors

Democrat Republican

Margin

WI

10

1,630,673 1,610,605

20,308

MI

16

2,804,040 2,649,850

154,190

PA

20

3,459,923 3,378,263

81,660

GA

16

2,473,633 2,461,854

11,779

AZ

11

1,672,143 1,661,686

10.457

Totals

73

12,020,412 11,761,718

278,694

 

The distortion between the popular vote and the Electoral College results presents added pressure to eliminate the national gerrymander structure within the Constitutional system, perhaps through the adoption of the National Popular Vote Initiative (NPVI), which avoids a Constitutional amendment. The 2000 (Gore v. Bush), 2016 (Clinton v. Trump) and 2020 (Biden v. Trump) outcomes speak to a necessity to conform the popular choice of the electorate with the principle of one person, one vote.

Campaign strategists in both parties are currently forming and detailing plans for the 2022 midterm and 2024 presidential elections. A number of states will witness state party measures to manipulate voting processes as well as judicial and representative districts. It is unclear whether the changes by the former president to the census data recording and reporting will benefit one party over the other.

Political tensions between state parties can be expected to increase as the midterms approach, as both seek to gain House and Senate seats. In Virginia, the General Assembly has again allowed legislation (HB 1933) to join the NPVI to expire by referral to a House committee, kicking the can and avoiding a measure to mute the EC’s corruptive effect upon national elections. At the same time, the state’s newly organized independent commission to draw political boundaries based upon census data is not able to proceed due to the delayed information from the US Census Bureau.

Campaigning for the popular vote would, then, be the objective, as opposed to concentration upon battlegrounds. In short, receiving more popular votes than an opponent should mean something and not contribute to conflict or friction. The events of January 6 at the Capitol may have been avoided were the electorate accepting of the popular vote result.

Proponents of NPVI argue that its effect upon presidential voting can decrease the intensity of the present political divide and mitigate against misguided judicial or political challenges to results. Clarifying the equation between the popular vote and the choice of voters would also contribute to an increased acceptance of a mandate for the successful candidate and a party’s platform. Campaigning for the popular vote would, then, be the objective, as opposed to concentration upon battlegrounds. In short, receiving more popular votes than an opponent should mean something and not contribute to conflict or friction. The events of January 6 at the Capitol may have been avoided were the electorate accepting of the popular vote result.

The nation is not condemned or consigned to live permanently with the dismal experience that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” 

 



Categories: elections, GERRYMANDERING, Issues, National, politics, VOTING RIGHTS

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