An interesting battle is brewing between some well-known conservatives in the Utah Legislature and their political party leaders, both locally and nationally.
Learn these words: “National Popular Vote Compact.” If you don’t know them already, you will soon.
If adopted by state legislatures making up 270 Electoral College presidential votes, it would change the way Americans elect their U.S. presidents.
While keeping the college intact it would automatically give the presidency to the man or woman who wins the popular vote.
As we all found out in the highly-contested 2000 presidential election, Republican George H.W. Bush actually won the office even though his Democratic opponent Al Gore won, across the nation, the popular vote by around 400,000 ballots. That’s because Bush barely carried Florida, and so won more than 270 Electoral College votes, and by the U.S. Constitution he won the presidency.
Putting partisan politics aside – no Republicans wanted Gore to be president, no Democrats wanted Bush – the folks behind the NPV say every person’s vote should count the same. And clearly in 2000, and in other presidential elections as well, going with the winner-take-all electoral vote system (as all but two states operate under today), that is not happening.
“Your votes in Utah don’t matter,” Pat Rosenstiel, a hired spokesman for the NPV group, told the Utah GOP House caucus Wednesday. “They don’t matter at all, because everyone knows that Utah will give its Electoral College votes to the Republican nominee” for president.
All the Democratic votes for president coming out of Utah don’t count, either.
State Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, no shrinking violet when it comes to conservative, states’ rights issues, is one of several GOP lawmakers who will be pushing the compact in the 2012 Legislature.
On the other side are National Republican Party leaders and Utah State Republican Party leaders, who will be opposing it.
Listen to what former congresswoman Enid Greene Mickelsen, the current GOP national committeewoman from Utah, says about the NPV: “No conservative, I mean no conservative, who understands this will vote for it. It is a sleazy end run around the Electoral College and the (U.S.) Constitution.
“It is outrageous. And any Republican officeholder, any officeholder, who votes for it should be drummed out of office.”
Greene Mickelsen says any Utah GOP state legislators who favor it have been brainwashed. And that Noel and others who recently went back to an NPV seminar in Washington, D.C. – with the group picking up their expenses – should know better.
Noel, Rosenstiel (who said he’s a Minnesota Republican) and other GOP supporters of NPV say national and state party officials are against the change because under the current system political parties are making some critical political decisions in presidential elections.
And, especially on the national level, hundreds of millions of dollars that are now flowing into the national parties, and controlled by the national parties, may be used elsewhere – most likely at the local party and presidential campaign state operations level.
In short, explained by Noel and Rosenstiel, this is how NPV would work:
-- Each state legislature that supports NPV will pass the same bill, authorizing the state to enter into a multi-state compact.
-- When enough legislatures in states with at least 270 electoral votes join the “compact,” then under current congressional authority, the NPV will take effect. This is how multi-state compacts work in other areas.
-- In the next presidential election, whenever that may be, when the popular vote in those compact states is tabulated after the election, the candidate with the most votes gets all of those states electoral votes. And that, of course, would mean that candidate gets more than 270 Electoral College votes and is elected president.
In other words, the popular vote will elect the president, not the winner-take-all system that led to Bush losing the popular vote by more than 400,000 ballots but still winning the office.
Noel told UtahPolicy that many GOP leaders and party organizers are “almost automatically” against NPV because they only look at the 2000 election and say: “Oh, no, we can’t let that ever happen – electing someone like Al Gore president.”
But the reality is different. And you must look beyond one election, he said.
“I’m a Republican, a conservative one,” said Noel, who is known for his fiery opposition to federal land policy, among other issues.
“But I also strongly believe in one man, one vote. Everyone’s vote should count the same. But of course it doesn’t under the winner-take-all Electoral College system.”
Noel says that the U.S. Constitution clearly gives individual state legislatures the power over how each state’s Electoral College votes are allocated.
In days gone by, some states allocated along the popular vote. If the GOP candidate got 60 percent of the ballot box vote, then he got 60 percent of the state’s Electoral College vote. But it didn’t take long in the country’s history for state leaders to figure out that they were diluting their Electoral College influence by that seemingly fair allocation.
Regional and state issues, including slavery and the Civil War, pushed state after state to the winner take all system – so their bloc Electoral College votes would count for more.
By the time Utah came into the Union in 1896, most states were winner take all and Utah has been so since.
But Utah is so Republican that there is no real presidential race here. Knowing that they have all of Utah’s Electoral College votes, GOP presidential candidates don’t campaign here. And until Mitt Romney, a Mormon, in 2008, they didn’t even fund raise here.
But Romney took more than $3 million out of Utah in his last presidential run, with Utah getting little to show for it, Rosenstiel said.
Noel invited all 104 legislators down to St. George on Dec. 9 for a NPV four-hour seminar. The group, a 501c3 organization that has both Democratic and Republican support, will pay for the legislators’ hotel rooms and mileage, said Noel.
“Of course they’ll pay,” said a skeptical Greene Mickelsen. “This is backed by a bunch of really rich guys who want to change the system to help themselves,” she said.
You can read about NPV here.
But Noel said there are real political and practical concerns about what is happening today in U.S. presidential elections.
“This plan in no way undermines the Electoral College. It doesn’t harm or bypass the Constitution. Right now two-thirds of the states see no real presidential campaigns – the candidates fly over us.”
(In the 2008 election, GOP nominee John McCain visited Nevada, his home state of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, but only flew over Utah.)
“Why do we have foolish ethanol subsidizes for Iowa? Because it is an important presidential state,” said Noel. “Why do we have U.S. steel production tariffs for Pennsylvania? Because it is an important presidential election state.
“The vast majority of presidential campaign funds, and promises made by an incoming administration, come because only 11-to-15 states now decide the Electoral College winner,” Noel told UtahPolicy.
In the end, a presidential election can come down to just six or seven swing/large states, he added.
“They don’t even pay any attention to California or Texas anymore, because they don’t matter in the Electoral College,” he said.
However, Greene Mickelsen and Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright use exactly those same arguments in defending the current system.
They say Utah will become even less important in a presidential race under the NPV, if that can be believed.
Said Wright: In the 2008 election, Utah had five Electoral College votes – reflecting the five folks we elect to the U.S. House and Senate. That five number is 0.93 percent of the 538 Electoral College votes. That year, just over 971,000 Utahns voted for president. That was 0.73 percent of all the votes cast for president across the nation.
Thus, says Wright, under NPV “Utah would lose 20 percent of its power in the presidential election. We can’t afford that. We’re small enough as it is.”
“You might as well write off the whole center of the country if this thing passes” in Utah and enough other states, Wright said. “The big states on the East and West coasts will decide the presidential elections. Worse, if there were multiple parties or candidates like Ross Perot in 1992, you could win a presidential election by just winning enough votes in one region of the country – and that is something the Founding Fathers feared, and framed the Electoral College in the Constitution to avoid.”
But, says Noel and Rosenstiel, party leaders have personal power reasons for wanting to keep the current system.
“We believe 70 percent of the (U.S.) people favor this kind of popular presidential election. It puts the party people in an interesting place. The Republicans don’t benefit from the current system, although some believe they do,” said Rosenstiel.
Noel said the arguments represented in a resolution opposing NPV recently passed by the RNC and the Utah Republican Party Central Committee (the locals passed the RNC opposition resolution word for word, said Noel) “are completely false.”
Noel passed out a two-page document that quoted the party resolution, along with red type rebuttals to each of the resolutions’ WHEREASs.
“We refute each of (the party’s) arguments” against this, said Noel.
Americans and Utahns alike, and local legislators, must come to understand what is wrong with the winner take all Electoral College system today, and how the NPV will fix it – make it more fair, he said.
Noel told UtahPolicy: “It is all about one man’s vote counting as much as the next man’s vote, no matter where than man votes.”