On Monday, Louisiana’s House of Representatives is expected to vote on HB 1095. This bill would make Louisiana party to the National Popular Vote (NPV) “compact” whereby state electors would pledge to cast their votes to the presidential candidate receiving the most votes nationwide, regardless of the results in Louisiana. Here are six reasons why legislators should reject this attempt to jettison our electoral system:
1. Louisiana voters should decide who receives Louisiana’s electoral votes. Our state will likely vote overwhelmingly for the Republican challenger to Barack Obama in November. But NPV could force our electors to disregard the wishes of the citizens they represent and vote instead for President Obama. Louisianans should decide where their electoral votes go, not voters in New York, Illinois or California.
2. National elections will encourage widespread voter fraud and increase the likelihood of nationwide recounts. Supporters of NPV claim that controversial recounts like Florida in 2000 would be a thing of the past. This is untrue. In fact, by making “every vote count” NPV would incentivize voter fraud in every city and state. Political machines would swing into action and squeeze every possible vote out of each district in hopes of swinging a national election. Further, a competitive election would produce a replay of Florida 2000, but on a national scale. Recounts would take place across the United States, along with endless litigation and doubts about the legitimacy of the eventual winner.
3. State autonomy will be threatened as elections are nationalized. While a system with state-by-state guidelines for voter eligibility, candidate qualification and electoral selection has drawbacks, it is consistent with our respect for state sovereignty. This tradition of state autonomy will be threatened as elections are nationalized and pressure for uniform standards grows. Standards for voter eligibility or certifying ballots will be seen as national rather than state questions and pressure will mount for a universal approach requiring central control. It will become one more transfer of power from the states to the federal government. This is not a development most Louisianans would support.
4. Smaller states like Louisiana will not benefit because national campaigns will focus on major media markets. While NPV supporters claim that states like Louisiana will become more relevant to national campaigns, in fact the candidates will logically focus on major media markets across the country. New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles might benefit from this change but Louisiana would not. It is a fact that the significance of individual states will wax and wane over the years. Louisiana was an important swing state in the recent past and will be one again someday. Doing away with our system will not make Louisiana a permanent player on the national stage.
5. Candidates and officeholders will not lose their ability to “buy votes” through policy initiatives. Supporters of NPV argue that national elections will prevent candidates from targeting swing states with policy “giveaways”. They cite George W. Bush’s support for expanded Medicare benefits, which was popular in Florida, as an example. But in a national election candidates will still attempt to win over demographic groups, and NPV could encourage them to become even more aggressive as they seek to capture support from larger segments of the population. The phenomenon of “buying votes” is a feature of our democracy that cannot be legislated out of existence. NPV will not only fail to accomplish this goal, it could make things worse.
6. Amending the Constitution is the appropriate method for changing our electoral system. Legislators understand that policy questions must be addressed in a Constitutional manner. Those who believe that NPV offers a better way to elect a president should still reject this bill because it seeks to evade the amendment process. While state compacts serve legitimate purposes, abolishing our system of selecting presidents is not one of them. This is an attempt at a Constitutional “workaround” and should be rejected. The proper approach is to seek to amend the Constitution. This is not easy, but if the arguments for NPV are persuasive its supporters should be willing to take up this challenge rather than relying on gimmicks.
Legislators contemplating support for this bill should take counsel from President John F. Kennedy: “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” Our Founding Founders strategically placed fences in an effort to balance power among the branches of federal government and the states. This balance has served our nation well and it should not be cast aside.
Our institutions and systems are not perfect. They are political creations and reflect the conflicts and compromises inherent in such endeavors. But the current system of electing a president is consistent with the values and priorities of our Founders and remains the best way to choose a leader for this large and diverse nation. Louisiana legislators should reject NPV and vote no on HB 1095.
Kevin Kane is the president of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy