“You Say You Want A Revolution”: How To Reform Our Political System

This month, members of Congress have introduced an amendment to the Constitution to reverse a recent ruling by the Supreme Court to allow Congress to regulate corporation engaged in political speech. Constitutional reform is no simple task. However, if we are finally ready to amend the Constitution to achieve political reform, why not make some real changes to our system? The proposed amendment would do little but return us to the status quo before the decision in Citizens United which (in case you have a short memory) was hardly a period of celebrated good government. To paraphrase the Beatles’ song, if “you say you want a revolution,” this is not it but there is a way.

Before we can change the system, we have to change our attitude passivity and collectively declare “enough.” While our leaders control the political branches, they do not control the political process itself. That is controlled by the Constitution, which remains in control of the people, in our control. It is not too much speech or too much money that is draining the life from this Republic. It is a lack of faith in ourselves to force change without the approval or support of our leaders. If we are going to go through the constitutional amendment process, then let’s make it worth our while and achieve real political change in this country.

Below is today’s column on fundamental reforms that could change not just Congress but our political system. I discussed the column on this segment on National Public Radio.


Real political reform should go beyond campaign finance

For decades, political reform in the United States has largely meant campaign finance reform. It is a focus the political mainstream prefers, despite the fact that it is akin to addressing an engine with a design defect by regulating the fuel.

Many of our current problems are either caused or magnified by the stranglehold the two parties have on our political system. Democrats and Republicans, despite their uniformly low popularity with voters, continue to exercise a virtual monopoly, and they have no intention of relinquishing control. The result is that “change” is often limited to one party handing power over to the other party. Like Henry Ford’s customers, who were promised any color car so long as it was black, voters are effectively allowed to pick any candidate they want, so long as he or she is a Democrat or Republican.

Both parties (and the media) reinforce this pathetic notion by continually emphasizing the blue state/red state divide. The fact is that the placement of members on the blue or red team is often arbitrary, with neither side showing consistent principles or values.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down restrictions on corporate campaign giving has prompted some members of Congress to call for a constitutional amendment to reinstate the restrictions. But that would merely return us to the same status (and corrupted process) of a month ago.

We can reform our flawed system, but we have to think more broadly about the current political failure. Here are a few ideas for change that would matter:

Remove barriers to third parties. Independent and third-party candidates currently face an array of barriers, including registration rules and petition requirements, that should be removed. Moreover, we should require a federally funded electronic forum for qualified federal candidates to post their positions and material for voters. And in races for national office, all candidates on the ballot in the general election should submit to a minimum of three (for Congress) or five (for the presidency) debates that would be funded and made publicly available by the government.

End the practice of gerrymandering. We need a constitutional amendment requiring uniformity in districts to end gerrymandering, in which politicians distort the shape of districts to link pockets of Democratic or Republican voters. Districts should have geographic continuity, and should be established by a standard formula applied by an independent federal agency.

Change the primary system. The principal reason incumbents are returned to power is that voters have little choice in the general election. Incumbents tend to control their primaries, and in many districts electing the candidate of the opposing party is not an option. Under one alternative system that could be mandated in a constitutional amendment for all states, the two top vote-getters would go into the general election regardless of their party. If both of the top candidates are Republican or Democratic, so be it. All primaries would be open to allow voters to cast their ballots for any candidate appearing in the primary.

Abolish the electoral college. The college’s current role in our system is uniformly negative and dysfunctional. It allows someone to be elected president even if his or her opponent gets more popular votes, as happened with George W. Bush in the 2000 election. This leads to serious questions of legitimacy. More important, it helps the two parties control entire states, because in states that are solidly red or blue, the opposing parties and candidates rarely invest much time or money campaigning given that they are clearly not going to get the electoral votes in the end. If there were direct voting for presidents, candidates would have good reason to campaign hard to grab pockets of, say, Democrats in Salt Lake City or Republicans in downstate New York.

Require a majority for presidents to be elected. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, there should be a runoff of the two top vote-getters — as is the custom in most other nations. This would tend to force candidates to reach out to third parties and break up monopoly control of the two parties.

It is unlikely that members of Congress would implement such sweeping changes. But Article V of the Constitution allows citizens to circumvent Congress and call for their own convention “on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states.” To be successful, a convention would have to be limited to addressing political reforms and not get sidetracked by divisive issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion. Individual states could also lead the way in enacting some of these reforms, such as requiring electoral votes to be divided among candidates according to the popular vote.

The current anger and outcry will mean nothing unless we can harness and channel it toward serious reform. Simply seeking a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform would do little to truly reform the system. Though it may require a third party to seek such changes, it can be done. We have to accept that the leaders of both parties are unlikely to solve this problem. They are much of the problem. The framers gave us the tools to achieve real change in our system.

Jonathan Turley is a professor of law at George Washington University.

L.A. Times: February 11, 2010

71 thoughts on ““You Say You Want A Revolution”: How To Reform Our Political System

  1. “End the practice of gerrymandering. We need a constitutional amendment requiring uniformity in districts to end gerrymandering, in which politicians distort the shape of districts to link pockets of Democratic or Republican voters. Districts should have geographic continuity, and should be established by a standard formula applied by an independent federal agency.”

    That would be one tremendous step.

  2. “Making no secret of thier views, the corporate folk admitted their anxieties identified their enemies, and revealed their aims. In 1975 the Trilateral Commission-which included prominent members of the political elite, both Republican and Democratic, along with similar figures from Western Europe and Japan-released a report on the “governability” of the Western nations titled The Crisis of Democracy. Observing that “the 1960s witnessed a dramamtic renewal of the democratic spirit in America,” Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington contended that the heightened activism of public interest groups, minorities, women, students and “value-oriented intellectuals,” together with the “marked expansion of white-collar unionism,” had produced a “democratic distemper.” And postulating that a “democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement, on the part of some individuals and groups,” he warned that “some of the problems of governance in the United States today stem from and excess of democracy.”

    From Thomas Paine and the Promise of America-Harvey Kaye

  3. *End the practice of gerrymandering: Great idea

    *Remove barriers to third parties: I am not an enthusiastic supporter of making it easier to have a third party. Allowing for a third party makes it easier to have a fourth, fifth and thirtieth party each concerned with their own parochial issues making legislation harder to pass rather than easier due to ever shifting coalitions.

    People start talking about third parties when they feel their representatives don’t hear them. I maintain its a too-much-money-in-politics issue. I believe the problem of tone deaf legislators is that they’re far more responsive to who gives them the most money than to their actual constituents. Money is at the heart of the problem and the SCOTUS’s Citizens United finding made it worse.

    *Change the primary system: I see this going directly back again to the too-much-money-in-politics issue. Incumbents have more money available from parties and special interest contributors. The solution here is tax-funded campaigns. Politicians, particularly House members, only spend about their first twenty minutes in office doing their job before they hit the campaign financing trail again.

    * Abolish the electoral college: Though I hated the outcome of the 2000 election, I see the Supreme Court as the culprit rather than the Electoral College. Doesn’t the College give weight to the votes in say, Wyoming, that would otherwise be overwhelmed by the results in Chicago or LA or NYC? The large population areas would control elections and although that might seem to favor us liberals, it doesn’t seem fair. The thought process of the Founders in setting up the Electoral College seems consistant with the establishment of the Senate, with equal representaion for each state versus population-related House seats.

    * Require a majority for presidents to be elected: This is expensive and cumbersome. It is only an issue if there are more than two parties and illustrates another reason to not go down that road. The simpler solution is to ban all contributions and use exclusively federal funds. This forces candidates to respond to issues rather than to special interests. For every $1 dollar per citizen set aside (taxed?) for campaigns equal $350 million. Shouldn’t a candidate be able to run a campaign for less than $350 million? From that starting point we can decide which offices get how much funding.

    Of the five elections changes proposed above, I believe going to tax funded federal campaigns could positvely impact three of them.

  4. I woke up this morning and now this?

    I think that the office holder should not be able to have the distinction on the ballot as an incumbent. This gives a distinct advantage.

  5. Oh yeah.

    That’s what I’m taking about!

    And may I add a “Woo hoo!”?

    There is one small item I would add to this list: Criminal Law Reform. I know, I know, first things first but this little bit I feel is an important follow through.

    We need prison sentences for white collar and political criminals at least as severe as the sentences for any other kind of crime. Kill one with a gun and go to prison, kill thousands with a pen and go free? I. Don’t. Think so. Steal a loaf of bread and it’s jail for you, but steal directly from tax payers and get a new job and a $17 million bonus? That should happen when pigs fly . . . the space shuttle. If I bribe a judge, I go to jail, but if a lobbyist bribes a politician, it’s not graft – it’s a “campaign contribution”? Yeah. Pull the other one.

    Keep on keeping on that path and the clowns in Washington still eventually end up getting the “Antoinette” treatment for their greed and myopic stupidity. A two-tiered legal system and a disconnect between the governed and the governors was the direct cause of the French Revolution.

    And history repeats.

    What we need is justice. No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace. It’s cheesy but it’s true.

    People like Cheney and Thain should be sharing a cell with an arsonist and a rapist for a long, long time and their assets seized as reparations. A child knows this is fair.

    It’s not enough to simply reform at this point. We need reformation with teeth as to discourage this kind of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior from happening again.

    We need checks and balances. We need punishments that fit the crimes.

    While we are at it, there does not need to be any kind of private prisons in this country. Period. Prisons for profit are how you get assholes like “Judge” Ciavarella and “Judge” Conahan sending kids to prison without a fair trial all so they could take $2.8 million in bribes from the prison’s “owners” i.e. officers acting on shareholder’s behalf to inflate their numbers for “The Street”.

    We also need to make sure the right crimes are being punished.

    A monster walking free like Cheney is an affront to both justice and common sense when snow ball throwers are given felony treatment. We don’t need a war on drugs (which is a miserable failure by treating a health care issue as a crime). We don’t need a “war on terror” as it’s impossible to declare war on a noun. A war against those who actually attacked us like “Our Ally/Bush’s Buddies” Saudi Arabia? Well that’s another topic (file under “Just War”). But as to the “wars” our government declares on citizens like the idiotic drug war (prohibition taught Washington one lesson: illegal means excessive profits – greedy bastards), that’s just bad focus on the problems facing society. And it’s bad focus on purpose to allow for that most wonderful of human traits to screw up the planet for all of us: simple stupid greed.

    We need a war on corruption if we need a “war” at all.

    This is an excellent list and an excellent place to start. But make no mistake – it is a start, not the end of the journey.

  6. AY,

    Other than that sounding like any speech by any current R or D pol (Mr. Kucinich excluded), I’m not sure how this works in the context of this column.

  7. Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.

    The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is “an extraordinary amount of money” for Main Street, “there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.”

    “I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aKGZkktzkAlA

  8. “I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said.

    Therein lies the problem. One cannot be cozy with the criminals, Barry. And everyone knows the difference between “savvy” and “criminal”. Except you apparently. Holding Wall Street’s venal hand and protecting them, just like you have done with the Bush Administration’s treasonous war criminals, isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, sport. Pardon me, President Sport.

    It’s collusion and aiding and abetting after the fact.

    I’m perfectly content to let you stand trial next to them, you unconstitutional jackass.

    Stick that in your signing statement and smoke it.

  9. It is a pretty empty list of reforms, Professor, since it ignores two of the real, immediate problems of lack of democratic representation in our government — denial of representation in the national government to the territories and to the District of Columbia.

    The Declaration of Independence set the founding principle that a government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.

    Long after the rest of the world has abandoned colonialism, the US operates the last and largest remaining colonial empire, with millions — not thousands, but millions — of persons in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and the Pacific possessions completely unrepresented in the governing national legislature. Yet there is not one word in the column about representation for the unrepresented, even though the republic was founded on the principle of representative government.

    The other listed reforms might be nice, but I doubt if they will solve any major problems. I have seen too many nice ideas, like term limits, sunshine laws, sunset laws, zero-based budgeting, and a million others, that were supposed to “solve” the problems of democracy. One hundred years ago, the Progressives thought that referendums, initiatives, recalls, and primary elections would solve all the problems. They have all come and gone. The column actually blames our problems in part on primary elections.

    And are third parties going to solve all our problems? Ha! Does anyone remember Ross Perot or Ralph Nader?

    Once again, the column seems to blame this all on the so-called “leaders”: “It is unlikely that members of Congress would implement such sweeping changes. But Article V of the Constitution allows citizens to circumvent Congress and call for their own convention “on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states.”

    Again, this dream of the “citizens” taking over from the members is a very pleasant fantasy, but it ignores reality. Any and all proposals in a new Constitutional Convention STILL HAVE TO BE RATIFIED BY THREE-QUARTERS OF THE STATES. So the 13 smallest states, with maybe a tenth of the population, would have a veto power on any proposed reforms. Anything – and I mean anything – that they dislike for any reason would go down the drain. For example, the tiniest states will never consent to additional representation in Congress for DC or the territories because they think it would reduce their power.

    For the same reason, there will NEVER be meaningful reform of the Electoral College as long as it triples the electoral power of the 13 smallest states. They have a stranglehold, and they like it. The largest states have always fought back against this imbalance with their winner-take-all rules. The people of the largest states are unlikely to make any change to their own detriment as long as the smallest states cling to their power. Put the blame on the failure of EC change where it belongs

    Finally, the column concludes that “the leaders of both parties are unlikely to solve this problem. They are much of the problem.”

    Well, here is something to think about. THE LEADERS OF THE PARTIES ARE ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE. The people have elected the leaders that they want. If they wanted other leaders, they would elect them, but they it appears that they haven’t. Incumbency is no protection – the incumbents have been dropping like flies for years. The problem is that their replacements go right on representing the views of the people.

    So stop blaming nameless leaders, politicians, Members of Congress and other powers that be.

    We have met the problem, and it is us.

  10. The trouble is getting those politicians with the power to give it up — that is, convene this convention. Don’t expect them to do this without massive popular outcry.

  11. “Well, here is something to think about. THE LEADERS OF THE PARTIES ARE ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE. The people have elected the leaders that they want. If they wanted other leaders, they would elect them, but they it appears that they haven’t. Incumbency is no protection – the incumbents have been dropping like flies for years. The problem is that their replacements go right on representing the views of the people.”

    Vince,

    I agree with much of what you’ve said, however, I have only one issue with this statement. When your choices are limited to “criminal” and “spineless”, an election is a question that is answered by the maxim a distinction without difference is no difference. I submit there is a chicken and egg issue with your statement. We can’t elect better officials if our hands are tied by the current lot, locking us into a choice between dumb and dumber. And we can’t get better representation without better representatives.

    Vicious? Meet Circle.

  12. “And we can’t get better representation without better representatives.”

    We can’t get better representatives without better people.

  13. Vince,

    That “better people” by necessity must include better people to choose from at election time, not just the spoon fed corporatist criminals we have to choose from now. Bad actors have subverted the selection system, Vince. Garbage in, garbage out. You cannot have better choices without a better candidate selection system. That means disabling the two party grip to start.

  14. “Allowing for a third party makes it easier to have a fourth, fifth and thirtieth party each concerned with their own parochial issues making legislation harder to pass rather than easier due to ever shifting coalitions.”

    RCampbell,
    Would you think about the problem the two party system causes by making parties into unwieldy coalitions of people whose beliefs are often antithetical and in doing so the voters ultimately become even more confused about what they’re voting for?

  15. The tea party has decided to stay with the republican party so that third party is not happening. The democrats had a fairly wide field of candidates in the 2004 and 2008 caucuses and primaries. It is just that the candidates on the left are not able to garner much support.

  16. I think the electoral college would work much better if there was uniformity as to how the votes were cast by each state. In some states, the electors can vote however they wish. In others, the electors vote with the majority of the state. I doubt the Framers had such disparity in mind.

    I think the electors should be representative of their district. I don’t think the way a majority of the state votes should result in all the electors voting with the majority. That kind of eliminates the purpose of having all those electors.

  17. Under the current system of electing the President, presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. New Hampshire has been the only small state among them. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

  18. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,707 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, Minnesota – 75%, New York — 79%, Washington — 77%, and West Virginia- 81%. Support is strong in every partisan and demographic group surveyed.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

  19. The Founding Fathers said in the U.S. Constitution (only after debating among 60 ballots for choosing a method): “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    The U.S. Constitution specifically permits diversity of election laws among the states because it explicitly gives the states control over the conduct of presidential elections (article II) as well as congressional elections (article I). The fact is that the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution permits states to conduct elections in varied ways.

  20. I think Vince has a good point. As long as the people want to be victims, they will. As long as they continue to gravitate towards candidates who espouse hate and fear, that is the government we’ll have.

    Third parties would be (part of) a big improvement. Certianly the two party system has become little more than two sides of the same corporate coin.

    I also agree with Buddha about legal reform. If corporations are going to enjoy free speech rights, their C.E.O.’s and corporate boards should be subject to the same criminal charges, prosecution, and sentences as anyone else. No special privileges, no plausable deniability, and no more corporate structure to hide behind. Personal accountability. No more cost benifit analysis before people are killed or the environment is raped without regard for the law — easier to pay the fine and deal with it later, right?

  21. The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    In small states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by eight state legislative chambers, including one house in Delaware and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

  22. The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

    Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
    * Texas (62% Republican),
    * New York (59% Democratic),
    * Georgia (58% Republican),
    * North Carolina (56% Republican),
    * Illinois (55% Democratic),
    * California (55% Democratic), and
    * New Jersey (53% Democratic).

    In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
    * Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
    * New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
    * Georgia — 544,634 Republican
    * North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
    * Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
    * California — 1,023,560 Democratic
    * New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

    To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.

  23. When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all rules, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

    Likewise, under a national popular vote, every vote everywhere will be equally important politically. There will be nothing special about a vote cast in a big city or big state. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    Another way to look at this is that there are approximately 300 million Americans. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities is only 19% of the population of the United States. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate could win 100% of the votes in the nation’s top five cities, he would only have won 6% of the national vote.

    Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.

  24. The congressional district method of awarding electoral votes (currently used in Maine and Nebraska) would not help make every vote matter. In NC, for example, there are only 4 of the 13 congressional districts that would be close enough to get any attention from presidential candidates. A smaller fraction of the country’s population lives in competitive congressional districts (about 12%) than in the current battleground states (about 30%) that now get overwhelming attention , while two-thirds of the states are ignored Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

  25. George Obama did not run on “hate and fear”. He ran on “hope and change”. That is what people were voting for. The ” hate and fear” people were Palin and McCain. The majority voted for what they thought was “hope and change”.

  26. Mike S

    “Would you think about the problem the two party system causes by making parties into unwieldy coalitions of people whose beliefs are often antithetical and in doing so the voters ultimately become even more confused about what they’re voting for”?

    Mike, I’m not suggesting the two-party system is great, just better than having to deal with fluid coalitions. It’s been painful to watch the manuveurings and pandering and ultimately the pay-offs to the coalitions of one (Nelson, Landieu, Lincoln) during the health care debate. Imagine the chaos of adding the narrow interests of a Right-to-Life Party member and/or a Green Party member and/or a Teabagger member, etc., makes me dizzy.

  27. The urban legislators tend to include women and minorities so to you ,duh, I guess they would be considered “kooks”.

  28. There is no answer to repair our system. The current Supreme Court is so stacked with neoconservative ideologues that we are pretty much lost as their recent decision to allow corporations to decide elections demonstrates.

    We will never get better representatives because corporations and big money pick them. The SCOTUS has proved itself to be a corrupt arm of the right wing, as we saw in the 2000 election fiasco. There is no more representative democracy in this country. Period.

    Unless of course you happen to be a corporation.

    Being an American now is like riding a really rickety roller coaster. All you can do is grab the sides, grit your teeth and hang on for dear life hoping the damn thing doesn’t derail.

  29. No SM. I wouldn’t choose to paint with such a broad brush. I don’t consider those whose political ideals I disagree with to be “kooks”. We all have varied backgrounds that shape our ideals. I think the opinion of the farmer is just as important as that of the lawyer when it comes to creating the laws.

  30. Duh You are right about that, but I worked in a legislature and most of the people who were anti choice and held fundmentalist views were outsate legislators. They were mainly men until one of your favorites,Michelle Bachmann,came along.

  31. I published a diary about this piece over at Dkos to, hopefully, get some more exposure for this. Political reform through amendment is something we should be seriously discussing. Fantastic post and great comments.

  32. I am glad to see your list.

    I have had a lifelong hobby of studying our national institutions. I became interested in them when I listened to veterans returning from WWII. They talked endlessly about what they had seen and done, and they talked about the future. They talked about jobs, education, keeping us safe, etc. It was fascinating for me and I was hooked. As a consequence I have followed the perennial calls for change. Someone is always unhappy with one part of our system. But few people put forward ideas for really changing it. But that is a lesson of history. There are many more problem identifiers than problem solvers.

    I have always enjoyed your appearances on television. I have always thought you were a clear thinker.

    I agree with your proposals, but I think more changes are needed. And I think your apples of wisdom are still too close to the tree. Madison, Hamilton, and Washington warned us about evil men, or as Washington put it, “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled,” men. I do not see how your changes would have prevented the problems we talk about every day, and I don’t think that your changes would have prevented George W. Bush from invading Iraq. Granted, your ideas might have kept him out of office.

    So my observation is that we are far, far away from implementing the kind of government that the Framers wanted, and that they tried to implement, but failed. As I read the Federalist essays, the most important design principle of the Framers was to keep evil men from getting power, but if they should, to keep them from doing harm. They had the right idea, it is the only way a democracy can work, but their design didn’t work.

    I have gone on too long, sorry.

  33. rcampbell:

    “The thought process of the Founders in setting up the Electoral College seems consistent with the establishment of the Senate, with equal representation for each state versus population-related House seats.”

    wasn’t it also a final road block for the possibility of a truly evil man (a Hitler or Stalin) from taking power? The electoral college could, in the event of the election of a very bad man, offer an escape.

  34. The Founding Fathers said in the U.S. Constitution (only after debating among 60 ballots for choosing a method): “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789 only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all rule to award electoral votes.

    In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote.

    The people vote for President now in all 50 states and have done so in most states for 200 years.

    The “mob” in a handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, get disproportionate attention from presidential candidates, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states.

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

  35. “They were mainly men until one of your favorites,Michelle Bachmann,came along.”

    There you go painting with that broad brush again, SM.

    Behind most of those pro-life men was a pro-life woman supporting them. I’m pro-life because I believe that life begins at conception. I have no problem with abortion in the case of rape or when the health of the mother is at risk. I believe in the natural right of self-defense. That’s what permits me to form that opinion. I have no problem with contraception. I think it is a responsible choice.

  36. Since when do you need a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court?

    With the correct wording, Congress can overturn SCOTUS and limit its appellate jurisdiction to question same.

  37. Professor Turley,
    Here in Indiana, our Secretary of State, Todd Rokita, is trying to end gerrymandering. He not only drew up two maps for much less than what the last re-districting cost, but set out guidelines such as:

    Two state house districts equal one state senate district.

    Borders of districts should follow natural boundaries and county borders as much as possible, rather than creating new borders.

    Unfortunately, Democrats in the state have accused him of doing this for political gain. And it is true, that in a very Republican state such as Indiana, they’d gain some seats. But if that’s how the chips fall, than so be it. It confuses me to no end that the state Senate has a 33-17 GOP majority, and the state house has something like a 51-49 Democrat majority, from the same state. It just makes no sense.

  38. Kohler’ national popular vote idea is a response to the problem of a candidate’s winning of the electoral vote while losing the popular vote. This has happened only twice in over 200 years.

    Kohler does not respond to JT’s request for a runoff election between the top two vote getters. The national popular vote bill may possibly work in a two-person election, but not in a three or four person race (like 1860), where no one gets 51 percent of the vote. What is to stop five, six or seven candidates from running and siphoning off votes?

    The supporters are asking voters in a red State like Wyoming to agree in advance to assign all their electoral votes to a candidate who might have received a tiny minority of its votes, even though that candidate got only a plurality of the national popular vote.

    Kohler admits that the 12 smallest states have only 11 million people, but, because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, they have 40 electoral votes. Ohio has 11 million people and has the same 20 electoral votes.

    Kohler says this two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. But the small states think their advantage is important and are not likely to go for this change, and the big states are unlikely to give up winner-take-all.

    Since the bill would have to be an interstate compact because of its direct impact on the federal governmental system, Congress would have to give its consent under the Constitution, Article I, section 10. That would give Congress, and the states acting through their representatives, a chance to kill it.

    Candidates would never campaign in the small states. They would go where the votes are. An extensive campaign in a big state could yield hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of votes. A similar effort in Wyoming would come up dry, with fewer than 10,000 votes.

    The national popular vote idea is another nice idea, like Prohibition, but it is no panacea.

  39. Ah, yes, a constitutional amendment.

    I seem to vaguely remember one such which was proposed and never passed. It was a quaint proposition – to wit:

    “equal rights under any federal, state, or local law could not be denied on account of sex”

    I believe it was called the Equal Rights Amendment. Anyone else here old enough to remember that fight?

    The only way to get money, which seems to be the problem, out of politics is to ban all television campaign advertising as they do in some countries in Europe. We did without it for 200 plus years and I, for one, could do without it again.

    http://www.epra.org/content/english/press/papers/Political_advertising_final-3.pdf

  40. Bob Esq.,

    “With the correct wording, Congress can overturn SCOTUS and limit its appellate jurisdiction to question same.”

    I asked you the is same question at another thread, but you never answered.

    Has this ever been done before? The idea scares the hell out of me. Wouldn’t it completely remove the checks and balances from our system of government?

    I was under the impression that diversity jurisdiction was to prevent bias? In addition, if Congress was to create a statute that limited appeal to only the district court (assuming you’re not suggesting that the right of appeal be eliminated), wouldn’t that make the circuit court, or even the district court (depending on how the legislation you suggest was worded), the “supreme court”.

    Article III, Section 1 “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, [AND] in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” If the word OR was there instead, I might be able to see it.

    I see a significant problem with Congress thinking that they can eliminate SCOTUS from having either original or appelate jurisdiction. I think that sort of interpretation is a direct result of Marbury. The purpose of the exception clause of Article III, Section 2 was to permit Congress to assign the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction in some cases where expediency and nationwide controlling authority were deemed necessary. I disagree with the Marshall Court’s interpretation of that clause. (But I’m not tasked with also riding circuit)

  41. Under the current system of electing the President, presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

  42. The Founding Fathers said in the U.S. Constitution (only after debating among 60 ballots for choosing a method): “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote.

    In 1789 only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all rule to award electoral votes.

    There is no valid argument that the winner-take-all rule is entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all rule.

    As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states.

    The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.

  43. Congressional consent is not required for the National Popular Vote compact under prevailing U.S. Supreme Court rulings. However, because there would undoubtedly be time-consuming litigation about this aspect of the compact, National Popular Vote is working to introduce a bill in Congress for congressional consent.

    The U.S. Constitution provides:

    “No state shall, without the consent of Congress,… enter into any agreement or compact with another state….”

    Although this language may seem straight forward, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, in 1893 and again in 1978, that the Compacts Clause can “not be read literally.” In deciding the 1978 case of U.S. Steel Corporation v. Multistate Tax Commission, the Court wrote:

    “Read literally, the Compact Clause would require the States to obtain congressional approval before entering into any agreement among themselves, irrespective of form, subject, duration, or interest to the United States.

    “The difficulties with such an interpretation were identified by Mr. Justice Field in his opinion for the Court in [the 1893 case] Virginia v. Tennessee. His conclusion [was] that the Clause could not be read literally [and this 1893 conclusion has been] approved in subsequent dicta.”

    Specifically, the Court’s 1893 ruling in Virginia v. Tennessee stated:

    “Looking at the clause in which the terms ‘compact’ or ‘agreement’ appear, it is evident that the prohibition is directed to the formation of any combination tending to the increase of political power in the states, which may encroach upon or interfere with the just supremacy of the United States.”

    The state power involved in the National Popular Vote compact is specified in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 the U.S. Constitution:

    “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”

    In the 1892 case of McPherson v. Blacker (146 U.S. 1), the Court wrote:

    “The appointment and mode of appointment of electors belong exclusively to the states under the constitution of the United States”

    The National Popular Vote compact would not “encroach upon or interfere with the just supremacy of the United States” because there is simply no federal power—much less federal supremacy—in the area of awarding of electoral votes in the first place.

  44. If the National Popular Vote bill were to become law, it would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would still have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

    Based on historical evidence, there is far more fragmentation of the vote under the current state-by-state system of electing the President than in elections in which the winner is simply the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the jurisdiction involved.

    Under the current state-by-state system of electing the President (in which the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote wins all of the state’s electoral votes), minor-party candidates have significantly affected the outcome in six (40%) of the 15 presidential elections in the past 60 years (namely the 1948, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections). The reason that the current system has encouraged so many minor-party candidates and so much fragmentation of the vote is that a presidential candidate with no hope of winning a plurality of the votes nationwide has 51 separate opportunities to shop around for particular states where he can affect electoral votes or where he might win outright. Thus, under the current system, segregationists such as Strom Thurmond (1948) or George Wallace (1968) won electoral votes in numerous Southern states, although they had no chance of receiving the most popular votes nationwide. In addition, candidates such as John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992 and 1996), and Ralph Nader (2000) did not win a plurality of the popular vote in any state, but managed to affect the outcome by switching electoral votes in numerous particular states.

  45. Under the current system of electing the President, no state requires that a presidential candidate receive anything more than a plurality of the popular votes in order to receive all of the state’s electoral votes.

    Not a single legislative bill has been introduced in any state legislature in recent decades (among the more than 100,000 bills that are introduced in every two-year period by the nation’s 7,300 state legislators) proposing to change the existing universal practice of the states to award electoral votes to the candidate who receives a plurality (as opposed to absolute majority) of the votes (statewide or district-wide). There is no evidence of any public sentiment in favor of imposing such a requirement.

  46. The Court said “the prohibition is directed to the formation of any combination tending to the increase of political power in the states.…” This is a strong argument for Congressional consent, since the scheme will inevitably increase the power of the signatory states. It is just Kohlers’s opinion that Congressional consent is not needed. That is not binding. There is a powerful argument that an interstate compact as sweeping and extensive in its national impact as this one cannot be effective without Congressional approval. For crying out loud, the Washington-MD-VA interstate compact for subway and busses needed Congressional approval even though it had no impact whatsoever on the political power of any state!

    It is just Kohler’s opinion that it will cause more campaigning in the small states. Most candidates will look for the big vote totals in the big states. The small states may be even more remote spectators. No one can predict that outcome.

    In sum, it is a nice idea that will not solve any major problems. The election of a minority President has happened only twice. It has no provision for a runoff, so multiple candidates and many more plurality Presidents are likely, without any more success by third parties.

    The proposal has no effect on the citizens in the territories and the District who are unrepresented in the national legislature, and its proponents seem unconcerned about that problem.

    The proposal does not respond to Turley’s concern about barriers to third parties in state and federal elections. It does not respond to his proposal for changes in state and federal primary elections. It does not respond to gerrymandering.

    And, most important, it does not, and cannot, provide for a runoff election for President.

    It is just another well-meaning idea.

  47. “The Dumbing Down of America

    By Manuel Valenzuela

    10/12/06 “Information Clearing House” — — Something is amiss in the great nation called America. Ominous sirens warning this reality can be heard emanating loudly through invisible winds of change circulating our towns and cities. The American people are being strangulated; unbeknownst to the masses they are being transformed and conditioned, becoming the entity the elite have long sought, the culmination of decades of social engineering designed to make of hundreds of millions the slaves of times past and the automatons of the future.

    Yet in this present day we find ourselves in, struggling to comprehend a world gone mad, unable to discern neither the direction we are headed nor the inevitable course time is guiding us on. It is because of what has been done to us, and is presently being done to our children, that we fail to comprehend the severity of the road that lies ahead. Quite successful have the elite become in shifting the balance of power from the masses to themselves. How, one might wonder, has this been accomplished, especially when we are the many and they the few?

    It is through the dumbing down of America, the methodical destruction and purposeful elimination of the means by which a society educates and enlightens itself. The evisceration of a system that extols accountability and dialogue, opens up the gates of opportunity with the keys of ability, questions authority and seeks debate, creates a wealth of knowledge and illuminates talent and that births an informed citizenry and creates free thinking, analytical minds has been slowly implemented for the last several decades. The dumbing down of America continues into the present, unrelenting and unhindered, squashing the masses for the benefit of the elite.

    A giant threat to the system is being disposed of, systematically and without remorse, making of America and its citizens yet one more cog in the engine called capitalistic exploitation of humanity.”

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article15280.htm

  48. Americans seem quite ignorant about the Article V convention option that the Founders gave us because they anticipated the future loss of confidence in the federal government. Seriously examine the many materials at foavc.org the site of the nonpartisan Friends of the Article V Convention; this is where you can also examine some 750 state applications for a convention. Corrupt Congress refuses to obey the Constitution and give us the first convention because they fear serious reforms obtained through constitutional amendments. The only thing to fear is the status quo and the corrupt, dysfunctional two-party plutocracy.

  49. Political reform… only companies seem able to get anything done.

    Certainly nothing happens in favor of the people, are you crazy… that can wait at least another 300 years

  50. Sorry, folks. Cox appears to have gone down in our area cutting off our cable and computers. I cannot use anything but my iPhone. I will post as soon as Cox fixes the outage. Do not panic or run to another site. Re-read old postings and pretend they are new postings. After all, most of it has not changed. Better yet, get a bucket truck and fix the probl!

  51. Cutting a cable is a treasonable offense in your area. I am betting it was some other blawg that set this up to keep you off of the air. Where is that O’Keefe kid?

    Hurry back.

  52. May God forbid it. There isn’t one person fit to amend the US Constitution in America except Ron Paul.

    And that ain’t going to happen.

    I’d rather see secession.

  53. Your comment regarding gerrymandering is spot on. There is a movement afoot in Florida to amend the Florida Constitution and prohibit gerrymandering in both state and congressional elections. The proposed amendments will be voted on in November. You can find more information about it at http://www.fairdistrictsflorida.org

  54. I wonder if this decision was meant to help this long term good friend of W?

    DeLay Hopes High Court’s Campaign Finance Decision Will Get Him Out Of Hot Water

    The Supreme Court’s decision to allow limitless spending by corporations to support or oppose political candidates means state laws that ban or limit such contributions now need to be rewritten or throw out. And in Texas, former House speaker Tom Delay’

    http://content.usatoday.com/topics/article/Dick+DeGuerin/00nvbYv8GW6mg/1

  55. Did you know former Travis County District Atty Ronnie Earle is running for Lt. Governor in the democratic primary?

  56. When The Eureka Company decided to move out of the US for cheaper labor costs and now
    like so many are mostly made in China, many consumers came to my store and said that they would buy anything but a Eureka vacuum cleaner.
    First, we will assume that you have already decided which features and options you would like to have in a new vacuum cleaner, and you
    have narrowed your list of possibilities to a reasonable number
    models, or brands, you would like to research.
    The brush automatically stops when the cleaner is upright and that is a good feature.

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