Defending the Electoral College since 2009
More than two years ago I wrote a post titled “NPV to Maine: Drop Dead” inspired by a lobbyist for the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) complaining that in order to win the electoral vote of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District (Maine awards one elector to the winner of each of its two Congressional districts), President Trump had added Maine’s lobster industry to a federal Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) program providing relief to food producers hurt by Chinese tariffs.
I don’t know if this is an accurate telling of why President Trump added the lobster industry to the CCC program – lobbyists for NPV say a lot of things that don’t really hold up to scrutiny. But it certainly could be true – politics isn’t always pretty and high-minded, and in this case, it’s probably as likely to be true as not true.
In that August 2020 post I noted that if the claim was true, it was not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it was a strength of the Electoral College that the executive branch has to pay attention not only to the largest groups but also to the smaller groups that would be overlooked if we had some form of direct election. If the NPV lobbyist’s claim is correct, it means that someone, somewhere, said to President Trump “hey, this small group is hurting from Chinese tariffs but got left out of our initial China tariff response, we should do something here.” And it’s a good thing that President Trump then had a reason to say “Yes, let’s do something here” because the Electoral College gave him reason to care about a few thousand lobstermen in Maine.
I also raised in that piece the idea that when presidential campaigns pay attention to the interests of small groups in so-called “battleground states,” there are often benefits for small groups in so-called “safe states” that have shared or similar interests to groups in the battleground states. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what seems to have happened here, again assuming the NPV lobbyist’s analysis is accurate.
It turns out that it wasn’t just the Maine lobster industry that was added to this program, it was the entire lobster industry. Boats from Maine are certainly the leading harvester of lobster, but there are also lobster boats in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. None of which, of course, are battleground states.
Furthermore, it wasn’t just the lobster industry that was added to the program – Dungeness crab, King crab, salmon, squid, and a dozen other species of seafood were added as well. Because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest I’m familiar with many of the fish that were added, and almost all of them are principally caught in states that are not “battlegrounds” – about half the species that were added come from Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. California has the largest squid haul in the country, followed by Rhode Island. Tuna was also added to the list, which appears to be of substantial benefit to Guam and American Samoa – which aren’t even states.
So, if the NPV lobbyist’s telling is correct – that Trump only cared about this issue because Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is competitive in presidential elections – it is also incomplete, in that it ignores that by getting Trump to be concerned about Maine’s lobster industry, it also appears to have brought to his attention the many others in the fishing industry who were not in “battleground states” but were also being harmed by Chinese tariffs, and led him to address their interests as well.
Under NPV, all but the largest voting blocs would be ignored. Those large groups get plenty of attention as it is in the current system, but as concluded in the earlier piece:
…[T]he Electoral College forces presidential campaigns to pay attention to small groups as well, like the 5,000 or so struggling Maine lobster fishermen. Is this crass politics? Perhaps, but it will exist under NPV or the current Electoral College. The question should be, do we want presidential politics that caters only to the largest voting blocks or do we want to ensure that a wider range of Americans are heard from and have their needs taken into consideration?
The claim that President Trump only added the lobster industry to the CCC program as part of an effort to win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District may be just another fish tale thrown out by NPV lobbyists hoping someone will bite, but even if it’s true the argument that we’d be better off as a nation if smaller groups were sidelined and ignored smells about as well as a sack of 3-week old geoducks (harvested primarily in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, also added to the CCC program) left in the backseat of a car during a heat wave.
Time is running out
There is a real, immediate threat to the constitutional way we elect our president. National Popular Vote is 72% of the way to implementing their dangerous plan.