Monday, February 13, 2017

The Presidential Popular Vote—More Controversy or Soon to be a Reality?

President’s Day 2017 is upon us—or as the federal government still officially calls it, Washington’s Birthday, even though it now falls on the third Monday in February. It was moved there by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 and because of this quirk, will never again be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday--February 22.  By calling it President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or by its third option, just Presidents Day (with no apostrophe)—some states (interestingly, NOT Massachusetts, which also opts for “Washington’s Birthday”) and the mainstream media must debate the question raised: which president(s) is/are being honored (just Washington and Lincoln or ALL Presidents past and present?), is it just the OFFICE of President of the United States being honored, OR is it just a name for a marketing tool to sell new cars?

This unresolved minor debate aside, Presidents Day sales are not needed this year to remind us that our attention is still on the last Presidential election and the hot button issue of the Electoral College vs. the popular vote. Due to the crisis created by the contentious and deadlocked election of 1800, the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1804 and changed the voting process of the Electoral College for President and Vice-President. Massachusetts supposedly ratified it in 1961 after its initial rejection in 1804 (according to Wikipedia); however, I can find no evidence to confirm this in the State Library’s official legislative sources! From 1804 to 2016, each presidential election has been conducted under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment with regards to the Electoral College vote.

One might think that the rallying cry for the abolition of the Electoral College to be superseded by the national popular vote is a recent phenomenon—possibly dating back to Florida’s “hanging chads” of the Bush-Gore election of 2000? However, a review of the Massachusetts Legislative Documents reveals that this sentiment has been a long-standing wish of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dating back to bills proposed from the early 1900’s and continuing throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries there were Massachusetts legislative filings and/or resolutions seeking to abolish the Electoral College in 1911, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1925, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1969, and 1981.

With the enactment of Chapter 229, Acts of 2010, Massachusetts joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact—a more realistic path being charted by individual state governments to  banish the Electoral College forever and avoid the necessity of a new Constitutional amendment to change or repeal the Twelfth Amendment. Will this Compact between states pledging to award electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the OVERALL national popular vote become a reality by 2020?  It is definitely a possibility—as of last year, 10 states and the District of Columbia have joined and their combined electoral votes add up to 165 of the magic number of 270.  In the current 2017 legislative session, 19 other states have a popular vote bill pending with 221 electoral votes at stake. It will soon be determined if any of these states will decide to join the 11 current Compact members—but one thing is certain: Massachusetts has already been on this Presidential popular vote bandwagon for a very long time!

Every vote equal: a state-based plan for electing the president by national popular vote  / John R. Koza, 2013.

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services