Our March 23 post tried to provide a balanced perspective on the pro and con arguments with respect to the Feb 5 mega-primary and frontloading of primaries in general. Today we’ll just refer you to Hendrik Hertzberg’s New Yorker article “Pileup,” an exceptionally well-reasoned and well-articulated critique of primary frontloading. Hertzberg notes for example in this truncated excerpt:
This development has two aspects, both of which have been widely deplored. One is the bunching of primaries, which magnifies the need to raise very big money very early, pretty much guarantees that dark horses will stay dark, and makes it harder for someone to enter the race late….For all practical purposes, the primaries disenfranchise voters in “late” states and privilege voters in “early” states, while the general election disenfranchises voters in “spectator” states and privileges voters in “battleground” states. In both cases, the disenfranchised far outnumber the privileged…a schedule that (a) locks up both parties’ nominations in one fell swoop and (b) requires the country to devote two out of every four years to Presidential politicking is completely insane.
Hertzberg also takes a quick shot at an even greater injustice — the winner-take-all electoral college:
The primaries, of course, are only half the story, and not the more important half. Thanks to the winner-take-all allocation of each state’s electoral votes—another of those informal constitutional amendments nowhere to be found in the parchment—the only voters who count in November are the ones in the dozen or so battleground states.
Help is on the way, explains Hertzberg, in the form of a national movement to render this most archaic of our institutions irrelevant:
…the fledgling National Popular Vote plan—a proposed interstate compact…would confine the electoral college to a ceremonial role, like the Queen of England’s. The idea is that once enough states have signed on to put together a majority of electoral votes, those states agree that their electors will always vote for the winner of the popular vote in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. From that moment, for the first time, Presidential elections would be truly national. Every citizen’s vote would be worth casting, and worth campaigning for, no matter what state it happened to be cast in. Grassroots politics would be worth the trouble everywhere, not just in a dozen swing states. No more red states and blue states, just the red-white-and-blue United States, its Constitution unchanged but its constitution made worthy of a mature democracy.
We’re stuck with the primary frontloading for 2008. But there is now a real chance to dump the electoral college and get rid of this rancid abomination forever — a cause tailor-made for blogosphere leadership and internet activism.
The consequence of the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state in the November election) is that presidential candidates don’t poll, visit, advertise, organize, or worry about issues of concern to states that they cannot possibly win or lose. Each presidential campaign generally makes about as many visits during the 3-month campaign as there are congressional districts (435). These visits (and the corresponding advertising money) is currently concentrated in just 9 closely divided battleground states. 88% of the money is focused onto just 9 closely divided battleground states: Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. 99% of the money is placed into just 16 states. Thus, two-thirds of the states are mere spectators to the presidential. A national popular vote would create a 50-state campaign in which candidates would spread their attention over the entire country, roughly corresponding to population, because every vote would matter, regardless of where it is cast.