OBVIOUSLY, you missed the hearings, town hall meetings and the referendum, because the North Carolina Senate voted late on Monday, May 14, 2007 to pass, by straight party-line vote one the most significant pieces of legislation ever to come before it. Senate Bill 954 is a proposal to join a "compact of states" to change the way the president of the United States is elected. And, no, there wasn’t any debate or discussion among the people of this state. Our Democratic legislature is voting to make the United States "more democratic" -- by an undemocratic fiat.
The aim of this "compact" sounds good: to have the president of the United States elected by a simple majority of the voting populace of the United States. If this compact is agreed to by enough states to represent a majority of the nation's electoral votes, the law would require North Carolina to give its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide, not the candidate the state's voters voted for.
That is not, of course, how the president is currently elected. We do not hold a popular vote election; we hold 51 elections in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The electoral college, which elects the president, is apportioned by state by the number of U.S. representatives (in proportion to the state’s population) plus two senators per state (so small states are given a modicum of voting power).
This "compact," the idea for which was hatched in San Francisco, would effectively amend the Constitution of the United States, without having to go through the messy process of amending the Constitution of the United States. Once a simple majority of enough state legislatures, constituting a majority of the electoral votes, enacts this "compact," the winner of the popular vote nationally in all subsequent presidential elections would become president.
Sounds democratic, doesn't it? Sounds like letting "the people" elect the president, doesn't it? Well, if it is, how come "the people" aren't part of the process to make this change? Perhaps because how North Carolinians vote in a presidential election will hardly matter, except as they agree with the majority of voters in the country, in allocating our electoral votes.
The framers of our constitution had reasons for setting up our electoral process as they did, and also for the process for how it can be changed: an arduous process of constitutional amendment, guaranteeing a protracted public debate. What they were trying to avoid is exactly what we are seeing here, under-the-table backroom deals that fundamentally alter our system of government.
Our country was created as a republic (a limited representative government) rather than a pure democracy (a government solely of the majority) and a federal system (having states as actors within the national government). If we want to make such a very consequential change, that’s something that should be done with public debate and careful deliberation and not while we’re not looking. If the legislatures of the 11 largest states ratify this "compact," our presidential electoral system is changed -- without any input from the other 39.
Our current system still makes plenty of sense because it preserves some power to the already marginalized rural areas and less populous states. If this "compact" for popular majority presidential elections takes effect, many areas of this country will be almost completely ignored, not just occasionally but in perpetuity. As it is now, "swing states" get lots of attention in each election, but those states change with the current candidates and particular issues at election time.
Under this "compact," presidential elections would become elections by the people of the urban areas of the country. The rural, less populated, parts of our nation would be effectively disenfranchised by this "compact." To do so by so undemocratic a process is ironic to say the least, and it will be a sad day for our republic if we let this happen.
Why are the Democrats doing this? This is not democracy in action; it’s partisanship run amok. In every presidential election since 1976, the voters of our state have opted for the Republican nominee. So, what the Democrat-controlled legislature is trying to do is simple: not to make North Carolina "more democratic" but to make it "more Democratic."
If this process seems acceptable, because the end justifies the means, the next "compact" could say our votes go to, not the majority winner, but the majority party’s nominee. This dictatorship of democracy would be no more or less constitutional than the current proposed "compact."
What’s a better way to bring more democracy to North Carolina? By confronting our state house before it also passes this Trojan horse (House Bill 1645). And by disenfranchising any legislators who are trying take, by an extra-constitutional process, our presidential vote from us, without our permission, so they can advance their national agenda, one not in our state’s best interest.
Gary D. Gaddy is a voter from Orange County.
An edited version of this column appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on Wednesday May 23, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy