Topic Update: Amending the Constitution

Remember the old topic, “How would you amend the Constitution?”

Here’s a poll of what Americans say they’d do.  Basically, more public control over governing institutions; e.g., direct elections of Supreme Court justices, with term limits; elimination of the electoral college; and a more expansive guarantee of rights (gender, education, others).

See here for the full poll details, in the form of a click-on slide show


6 responses

  1. 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 bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. The National Popular Vote bill does not try to abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President (for example, ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote) have come about without federal constitutional amendments, by state legislative action.

    The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 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. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in 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): Alaska — 70%, DC — 76%, 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%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 30 state legislative chambers, in 20 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, 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.


  2. I don’t think this is the way to do it, and is probably unconstitutional.
    The way to do it is by constitutional amendment, and the big question will be:
    Elect the President by plurality, or require a majority and a run-off election, as France does.
    Many people do not realize that the present system, among other defects, produces
    minority presidents: Bill Clinton, for example, won with 42% of the vote in 1992.
    Is it really democratic to have a President elected, when such a majority of voters
    have actually voted for someone else?
    On the grotesque results of the 2000 elections, I will not comment.

  3. The Founding Fathers only said in the U.S. Constitution about presidential elections (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.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

    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.

  4. Yes, and precisely because it’s in the Constitution, we need a Constitutional amendment to change it.
    The right of the people to vote for President should be in the Constitution, as well
    as a practical method whereby they can do so.
    Any attempt to constrain the state legislatures, other than by amendment, would probably not pass legal muster.
    Unfortunately, this is politically very difficult. Plans to abolish the Electoral
    College are introduced in every session of Congress; they go nowhere.

  5. The only constitutional revolution we ever had took a civil war and the 13-15 amendments only passed because the southern states had not been readmitted to the union yet. Evolving the text’s meaning has happened more often. But I don’t know how that could be done given the strict language on this issue.

    I don’t know much about the constitutionality of the National Popular Vote bill, but for the next 20 years, we’re gonna have a SCOTUS that will simply refuse to make major rulings that would disadvantage the Republican Party. That’s just a fact. See Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, etc.

  6. It’s hard to figure what, if any, political advantage there might be for either party
    in going from the Electoral College to a popular vote, whether by majority or plurality. But you can be sure they are analyzing this closely and will make their
    decisions based on what they see as their perceived advantage.
    And you are right, we are not going to see Supreme Court decisions which might place the Republican party at any disadvantage whatsoever.

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