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NPV Critic Response Series: Sen. Grassley Defends Wrong System

by Katie P. Kelly // Published October 22, 2011
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U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley was reported in the Globe Gazette as stating that the Electoral College “has served us well”--referring to his state of Iowa -- while on WMT Radio 600 this week. 

Sen. Grassley has a point – at least for now, Iowa receives a decent amount of attention during presidential elections. Not only does it get all that undue attention due its caucuses coming first in the presidential nomination calendar, the state is one of the favored few states in general elections to be competitive.

According to the Gazette, he says that a change to a national popular vote would allow candidates “to ignore small-population states like Iowa.”  In the words of Grassley, 

“If we do a national popular vote, the 12 to 13, some say 19, largest states are going to get all of the attention”.

Grassley’s mistake is assuming that this is directly because of the Electoral College system. In fact, Iowa really only receives attention because it happens to be a close state.  It is the current system that results in neglect of the smallest and most rural states

In peak season of the last general election, 98% of all campaign events and more than 98% of all campaign spending took place in only 15 states. Swing states like Iowa dominate presidential elections, but FairVote’s data show conclusively that the number of swing states is decreasing with each new presidential election.

Due to the winner-take-all rule in states, candidates only focus on states where the outcome is in doubt. Of our nation’s 15 smallest population states, only one gets attention in a close presidential election.

Even among the swing states, it’s the large states that matter most. Why? Because they offer the biggest reward! Candidates can receive 100% of the prize for only half of the popular vote in a state --regardless of the ballots cast by a significant portion of voters in each. That’s why in the general election, we hear a lot more about Ohio and Florida than Iowa.

And Iowa isn’t sure of staying a swing state. Once a state tilts toward one party, it is absolutely, utterly ignored – just like most other states. And that’s happening to two or three more states each election.Although opposed by Sen. Grassley, the National Popular Vote plan has the opposite impact. Because we live in a ‘swing nation”, every individual vote counts just as much as another, and every vote in favor of a candidate will actually be his or her vote to win. 

Grassley and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad say that 31 small states would not matter under a national popular vote for president. They are just simply wrong. A candidate could win every single vote cast in the 10 most populous states (including, of course, their big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Houston), but he or she would still not be able to win a majority of the popular votes to be elected. There is no incentive to campaign in safe states; only competitive states matter in a winner-take-all system.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia are all losing right now because of the winner-take-all Electoral College rule. If we really want small states to matter in an election and, “a president who has to go to rural America,” as Grassley says, then we should all be rooting for the National Popular Vote plan for president.