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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Massachusetts Endorses National Popular Vote

An earlier post dealt with the National Popular Vote proposal for the electoral college. As The Boston Globe reports, the Massachusetts Legislature has now acted on it:

"What we are submitting is the idea that the president should be selected by the majority of people in the United States of America," Senator James B. Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, said before the Senate voted to enact the bill.

Under the new bill, he said, "Every vote will be of the same weight across the country."

But Senate minority leader Richard Tisei said the state was meddling with a system that was "tried and true" since the founding of the country.

"We've had a lot of bad ideas come through this chamber over the years, but this is going to be one of the worst ideas that has surfaced and actually garnered some support," said Tisei, who is also the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

The bill, which passed on a 28-to-9 vote, now heads to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick's desk. The governor has said in the past that he supports the bill, said his spokeswoman Kim Haberlin.

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, likes the idea. From The Salem News:

Why is it so important to pass this legislation? Because under the current system, running for president means just one thing: Focus on the so-called swing states. I did it. Al Gore did it. John Kerry and Barack Obama did it, and our Republican opponents did it, too.

A big turnout in Massachusetts and more than two-thirds of the other states is irrelevant to winning the election. Only winning the swing states matters, and presidential candidates are under tremendous pressure to embrace issues and positions that will resonate in those few states. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that in the past several presidential elections, candidates have spent almost all of their time between Labor Day and Election Day in about six states. That's not healthy, and it's not right.

At National Review, Tara Ross argues that the idea would thwart the Founders' design:

The Massachusetts legislature has forgotten (or never knew) the lessons of history that caused the founding generation to create institutions such as the Electoral College. The Founders had an interesting challenge in front of them: How could they encourage successful self-governance in a country as big and diverse as America? They faced two challenges: First, they knew that, as a matter of history, pure democracies fail. John Adams once noted, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” In such a system, it is simply too easy for bare or emotional majorities to tyrannize minority groups. The Founders’ second challenge came from the vastness of America’s territory: Some wondered how the alternative to democracy, republicanism, would operate in such a large nation.

The Founders solved their dilemma by drafting a Constitution that blended three different governmental principles: republicanism, democracy, and federalism. America would be self-governing, but minority groups (especially the small states) would have tools with which to protect themselves from unreasonable rule by the majority. The federalist aspects of the nation would help solve the problem of extending a republic across such a broad swath of territory.