Tom Foreman | BIO
Political movements are becoming ever more like a match tossed into a room full of dynamite; no matter which stick you are aiming for, chances are a lot of others will fire off too. A case in point: The movement to side step the Electoral College and elect presidents purely by popular vote.
Massachusetts jumped hard on that bandwagon, and rattled down the last stretch of road toward making it their law this week. New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, and Hawaii have already approved such measures.
The attraction is simple. Americans don’t like the idea of the person they pick for office losing the election because of this strange, historic institution of the Electoral College. In fairness, it doesn’t happen often, but it can and it did in recent memory. Al Gore in 2000 had more popular votes than George Bush, but you may have noticed Mr. Gore never moved his things into the Oval Office, we went to Iraq, and the rest…as they say…is the stuff vendettas are made of.
So common wisdom has it that disgruntled Democrats are driving this movement. That said, pundits on both sides of the aisle are dissecting the ways in which a popular vote might benefit their party. But if this movement continues, I suspect they both might be shocked by the long term results.
Voters are hugely united by a profound irritation with the status quo, and a purely popular vote would make it much harder for either party to triangulate key states to win, especially in a tight election. That volatility could make the White House door swing much wider for all sorts of third party, no party, and wild party candidates who simply capture the public’s fancy in the home stretch. Did anyone say Howard Stern?
What’s more, if the winner must have a majority, not merely a plurality, relatively oddball players who grab, oh say, ten percent of the vote, could suddenly become kingmakers; wheeling and dealing their support to whichever near-front runner will give them the most concessions.
I’m not saying a popular vote is a bad idea. What I’m saying is the unintended consequences could also prove to be utterly unexpected and calamitous for the two parties and their supporters, some of whom even now seem blind to the surprises the public may have in store for them.
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