National popular vote: Alaskans should know better

Voices of the Peninsula

I saw with dismay the Clarion's website which indicated that some 75 percent of respondents thought that the presidential election ought to be decided by national popular vote. As a way to steer around the cumbersome process of a constitutional amendment, some state legislatures, which are perfectly entitled to decide how their electors are chosen, are seeing fit to automatically award their electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote count.

That Alaska should even consider this demonstrates a madness that is understandable in the average citizen, but inexcusable for any legislator worthy of the name.

As it stands, Alaska's 3 electoral votes are approximately .6 percent (as in "point six of 1 per cent) of the 538 total. Not much, as you may rightfully say. But if we move to the standard of overall national vote, our share is reduced by a factor of 3, going down to about .2 percent of a national total.

We are not alone in this. Look at the combined square miles of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, coupled with Alaska. It's about one-third of the space of the entire nation, the residents whose opinions ought to be worth something in a republic.

As it stands right now, the "big" states in population already hog the most attention in presidential campaigning. With a system based on popular vote, rural interests and small states will get even less attention from candidates, and hence with policy. Look at the counties of the state of New York, urban as it is. Yet the vast majority of New York's space, being rural in the central farmland and northern forests, usually defy the population centers in Buffalo, Rochester and New York City. The same goes with downstate Illinois against Chicago, upstate Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota against Detroit, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. Yet the "country cousins" are drowned by the tsunami of the cities, cities that do not understand why people think differently than they do in the hinterlands. This will unquestionably happen on a national scale.

It gets worse: if we want people to be encouraged to vote, a national vote tally will do the exact opposite. In 2000, Florida's whopping 25 electoral votes were decided by a mere 250 popular votes out of nearly 6 million cast. Shift 300 votes on a state level, and that's what is called "voter clout." Shift them out of 105 million, and you are chaff in the wind.

The popular vote illusion is a product of the television media. A presidential election is really about 51 (counting D.C.) different elections, not one national election. The grand total of votes should be no more significant than the total number of points scored in a 7-game series in the NBA playoffs. It's not the total points that count, but who wins four games. The "total points" statistic is merely an unimportant side-bar. If the NBA were to change that equation, no telling how the games might be played. And so it would be with a national popular vote format.

The Constitution was constructed to be a balance between popular will and states' rights. By removing the selection of U.S. Senators from the state legislatures to a popular vote, as was done in 1913 with the 17th amendment, this balance was violated. A change in presidential election process would further erode the concept of a republic, and turn us ever more quickly into a mindless and tyrannical democracy.

A nation is more than popular will. It is resources, land, water, and space. The people who occupy that space need to have some of their own "clout" in the schematic functioning of a republic.
Alaskans ought to know better.
Bob Bird, of Nikiski, is a longtime Kenai Peninsula educator. He ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1990 and as the Alaskan Independence Party candidate in 2008.


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