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NPV Sets Up Camp in Idaho

by Paul Fidalgo // Published October 8, 2009

The AP reports today that the National Popular Vote initiative has begun lobbying work in Idaho, part of the larger mission to make sure every vote for president is equal no matter where it's cast.

[Activist Pat] Rosenstiel said states with small populations like Idaho could gain from scrapping the present system, because residents' votes would count toward a national total. That would force presidential hopefuls to pay attention to issues and interests beyond traditional battleground states where they now focus the bulk of their attention, he said.

"It'll make sure that in presidential elections that every vote cast in Boise counts just as much as a vote cast in Boca Raton," he said.

Of course, there's the misinformed counterpoint that usually crops up in such discussions:

"The whole idea is to get as many areas of the country involved as possible, and to let each state-sized community decide," said Judith Best, a political scientist from the State University of New York at Cortland. "That means candidates have to form coalitions. That makes for moderation, because the only way you can form a coalition is by compromise."

First of all, there's nothing that says political coalitions need to be regional. Coalitions are formed, probably more often and more passionately, around issues and philosophies that transcend state borders. And because most state laws have winner-take-all rules for allocating electors in each state, it's not really a situation in which a "community" is deciding anything, but rather within the spectator states (states won by one side or the other by big margins) the "decision" was made long ago, making them irrelevant to the national discussion. Prof. Best continues:

Best contends the chaos that followed the 2000 presidential election would likely pale in comparison to rancor arising from a disputed national popular vote. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in the Electoral College after a U.S. Supreme Court challenge over Florida results.

For one, she said, voters in reliably Republican states such as Idaho would likely be outraged if their four electoral college votes went to a Democrat who won the national popular vote. And razor-thin margins in a nationwide popular vote could result in vote-count challenges not just in one state, but everywhere.

"You would have 50 Floridas," Best said.

It's an old canard that somehow the National Popular Vote would "overturn" a state's election results, giving electoral votes to the "wrong candidate." This is a fundamental misrepresentation of the plan, because with NPV in effect, every single Idahoan's vote would be exactly equal to every vote cast in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, etc, and always count toward the total of their supported candidate. The issue of states as a body voting for a candidate would be a moot point. As of now, the Electoral College can give the "wrong candidate" the presidency by allowing the candidate with the most votes to lose.

As it happens, Idaho voters overwhelmingly prefer the national popular vote winner always winning the election than the status quo. See this poll result that shows 77% of Idaho voters support a national popular vote, including 70% of Republican voters.

And we already do have "50 Floridas." They're called states, the individual state-by-state miniature races for president that make up the Electoral College system. It is a piecemeal system like this that allows for tiny margins within states to send the national election into a tizzy. In fact, FairVote research has shown that razor-thin margins and recounts are vastly more likely under the Electoral College system than under a hypothetical national popular vote, because as the pool of voters increases, the chances for recount-tempting margins goes way down.

We'll be eagerly watching this debate in Idaho take shape. It will be a good thing for voters in a very red state to see that this is not about left or right, but about making every vote literally equal no matter where one lives.