Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Scott Keyes: Electing President via Popular vote is a "threat to our country"? December 8, 2011

Thom Hartmann: You know the electoral college, welcome back, by the way, to the third hour of our program. The electoral college was put together in many ways based on the way that the Iroquois did things. Which was each, each community would appoint a wise elder. And they would all, they were called Sachems. And they would all get together, at a time every year, and you know have a meeting. Although the Sachems didn’t actually have the ability to make a decision, they only carried the message back to the community, where in five of the six Iroquois nations only the women voted.

But there was also this idea of the, in the Whig histories, the Paul de Rapin-Thoyras was the most famous, who was the one that Thomas Jefferson was most in love with. After reading Jefferson’s biography, autobiography, reading his writings, I went out and bought a copy of Rapin-Thoyras's “A History of England," published in 1760-something. I bought the same copy. Not physically the same copy, but the same one that Jefferson had read. And used some of it in my book “What would Jefferson do?" A lot of it ended up on the cutting floor when the editor got done with it. Because I was so in love with it and the editor thought it was you know 17th century English or 18th century English. But the idea was that before the invasion of the Roman empire, England was tribal prior to the year 200, 300, and in fact Jefferson, in his letter, when he donated his library, he said you know the most important books are Tacitus, the Roman historian who was there when Agricola his uncle conquered the British Isles in the year 200-something or 300-something. And Paul de Rapin-Thoyras the Whig historian.

And what they used to do, what the British did when they lived tribally, before they were occupied by the Romans is they had these, each community would appoint a wise elder and the wise elder would come to the Wicca? Gemeinschaft and would determine who was going to be the leader of the country. And so at that time, it seemed like a really cool idea to have an electoral college where each community would elect a wise elder and that wise elder could vote his mind. I mean if you’re an elector, in the electoral college, you don’t have to vote the way that your community sent you to vote. And in fact it’s happened a couple of times. Only a couple of times in American history, where electors have voted in a different way. But it’s kind of outlived it’s usefulness. You know? We don’t have to ride by horseback three hours to get to Washington DC anymore. And we do have instantaneous communication. And so now there’s this movement for a national popular vote to say you know the electoral college is an anachronism. And let’s just elect whoever gets the most votes and let’s let campaigns be national. And Mitch McConnell seems to be quite worried about this.

Scott Keyes is with us. He is a writer, blogger over at ThinkProgress, the Think Progress blog. Scott, welcome to the program.

Scott Keyes: Thanks for having me on, Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Tell us about, actually I have a little audio clip of senator McConnell who is the Republican leader in the Senate. And his paranoia about elections in general. Let me just play this and then I’d like to let you riff off of this. Here he is.

Mitch McConnell: Now is the moment. No more games, no more gimmicks. The constitution must be amended to keep the government in check. We have tried persuasion, we have tried negotiations. We have tried elections. Nothing has worked.

Thom Hartmann: Bingo. We tried elections and nothing’s worked. What’s wrong with this guy Scott?

Scott Keyes: Well this is, that was a comment that he made in July saying that we need to rewrite the constitution and add in a balanced budget amendment because you know, and this is the Republican Senate leader's words, because in his words, elections have not worked.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Scott Keyes: And this is a man who is supposed to be leading, at the forefront of our democracy and saying that elections haven’t worked. What really doesn’t work is that voters know they don’t want a balanced budget amendment, that it would be so Draconian and...

Thom Hartmann: Well we wouldn’t have been able to fight World War II if we had one, for example.

Scott Keyes: Oh most, you know, the Paul Ryan budget itself would be essentially unconstitutional under the balanced budget amendment that Republicans are trying to peddle. And so you know, people like senator McConnell are forced into positions where they in order to try to tout the balanced budget amendment they end up having to say things like elections haven’t worked. It’s pretty out there.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. So Scott Keyes, what, you know, today Mitch McConnell gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation. And apparently this topic came up. And what happened? Give us the report.

Scott Keyes: Right. So there was a presser at the Heritage Foundation concerning the national popular vote. And what the national popular vote compact is, is a group of states have gotten together and said you know we, state law makers have said that the electoral college is kind of out dated. Now it’d be really difficult to go through the constitutional amendment process to you know enact a popular vote and dismantle the electoral college. But one thing that states are allowed to do is say, you know, we’re going to bind together and we will award our electors to the candidate who wins the popular vote. Now the genius of this plan is it only kicks in once a majority of states with electoral votes have signed onto it. So until there are states with 270 electoral votes it won;t take effect. But after that, if we were to get enough states to sign on, and their 270 electoral votes in the plan, then the winner of the national popular vote becomes president and we don’t have a repeat of the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush…

Thom Hartmann: By a half million votes.

Scott Keyes: Oh yeah. It wasn’t even very close. He won it by hundreds of thousands of votes and yet because of just an idiosyncrasy in the electoral college, George W. Bush ended up becoming president.

Thom Hartmann: Well in part also had the Supreme Court not stopped the count in Florida, Al Gore would have won according to the recount that the New York Times did. But that’s a whole other issue.

Scott Keyes: Exactly.

Thom Hartmann: So now also something that our listeners probably need to know about and our viewers need to know about is that there has been an attempt to game the system. And that is that in some of the, some of the Republican states, what they have tried to say, states that have more Republican members of congress, because you get one electoral vote for every member of congress. So you get two for your two senators and then you get one for each one of your state representatives. And that in those states where a majority of those electors or those members of congress are Republicans, they have tried, or there have been attempts, to say that this state is going to stop being all or nothing, and kind of, this is almost the reverse of the national popular vote. And each individual congressional district’s vote will be counted. So, excuse me I have it backwards. In the states that are majority democratic, the Republicans are trying to get this done. So that the state won’t be entirely democratic, there will be republican votes in there. How is that effort going along?

Scott Keyes: Right. So this has been proposed in a couple of states, in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in particular, where they’re, you know, more blue leaning states, they have voted democratic in the past few presidential elections but right now republicans control the governor’s mansion and those state legislatures in both of those. And what they’re trying to do is essential game the system. So they know that in 2012, you know Barack Obama is going to have the inside edge to carry Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. So what they’re going to try to do is dilute the number of electoral votes that he can win by carrying the state.

Thom Hartmann: Right. We have just 30 seconds, is, are they going to succeed at this?

Scott Keyes: I don’t think so. I think that cooler heads are prevailing here and that we will be able to shut down those efforts in both states. But...

Thom Hartmann: Okay. And the national popular vote, how far down the road do you think that is? Years?

Scott Keyes: I think that is still going to be a couple years off. But with people like Mitch McConnell calling it a genuine threat to our country, the republicans are going to rally against it, so who knows.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. There you go. Scott Keyes, reporter over at Scott, thanks a lot for the good reporting, for the great reporting, and for coming on our show and sharing it.

Scott Keyes: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Thom Hartmann: Good talking with you. We’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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