What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Four-hundred days before election 2012 … and both political parties are busy strategizing. The Republican-controlled Pennslyvania legislature is considering a change in how its electoral college votes are awarded. It could be bad news for Democrats. President Obama’s team is meanwhile calculating ways to take advantage of changing demographics in the electoral map. They see some formerly red states possibly turning blue. Several Republican-led states have either passed or initiated legislation that would restrict early voting and require voters to show more identification. They say it’s necessary to limit fraud. Democrats say the measures would disenfranchise some voters. Finally, Florida jumped the queue last week. It’s holding a primary on January 31st. A panel of experts joins guest host Tom Gjelten to discuss strategies for mapping a victory path to the White House
- Amy Walter political director, ABC News.
- Whit Ayres president of Ayres, McHenry & Associates, currently polling for Jon Huntsman's Super PAC.
- Dominic Pileggi Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader, Republican.
- Bill Burton senior strategist with Priorities USA Action, former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Pennsylvania is considering a change in the allocation of its electoral votes. The president's re-election campaign is figuring out new ways to get the 270 electoral votes needed to win. And Florida has unsettled the GOP primary schedule.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio to discuss strategy for 2012 are Whit Ayres, president of Ayres, McHenry & Associates -- he's currently polling for Jon Huntsman's super PAC -- Amy Walter, political director for ABC News, and Bill Burton, senior strategist with Priorities USA Action. He's a former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House. Good morning, folks.
MR. WHIT AYRESGood morning.
MR. BILL BURTONGood morning.
MS. AMY WALTERGood morning.
GJELTENI'll be right back to you in a minute. But first, Pennsylvania's Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi joins us by phone from Chester, Pa. Good morning, Senator.
SEN. DOMINIC PILEGGIGood morning, Tom.
GJELTENSenator, tell us more about this legislation that you have introduced that would change the way Pennsylvania allocates its Electoral College votes. What would your proposal do?
PILEGGIMy proposal is very simple to explain. It allocates the Electoral College votes based on the popular vote for president. And, statewide, there would be two votes based on the statewide popular vote. And in each of the 18 congressional districts, there would be one Electoral College vote based on the popular vote in that congressional district.
GJELTENAnd what was the reason for introducing this legislation? What was wrong with the way that the votes were allocated before?
PILEGGIWell, Pennsylvania has what's known as a winner-take-all system. And, looking at that, it does not reflect the voice of the voters in the popular vote so that it -- those who are on the losing side of that equation don't get to register any vote in the Electoral College there. They vote -- even if it's 50 percent plus one, they are not represented at all in the Electoral College vote.
PILEGGIThis is one way of making that allocation of Electoral College votes more closely reflect the popular vote.
GJELTENBut, Senator, shouldn't a reform like this be done on a nationwide basis? Obviously, it's going to have differential impacts in different states. Pennsylvania has generally been considered a blue state. If the next election follows that pattern, wouldn't this change mean, therefore, fewer electoral votes for Barack Obama?
PILEGGIWell, only a few can predict with certainty what the outcome of the November election will be. I can't do that. And, in fact, in the commentary towards my proposal, many Republicans are saying, well, 2012 is the year that the Republican candidate for president will finally win after a few unsuccessful cycles, and, therefore, this is not the year we should be trying to have the popular vote be reflected in the Electoral College more fairly.
PILEGGISo I've heard from both sides. I think the Democratic strategists are reacting more strongly because they will -- could pass trends and think that that will predict the 2012 election. But I think everyone agrees that our political situation, our electoral situation is very volatile, and not only Pennsylvania but nationally. And I don't know that anyone can predict with any certainty the outcome of the 2012 election.
GJELTENSo, Senator, would you be proposing this if you were pretty sure that Pennsylvania would give all of its votes to the Republican candidate? Would be -- would you be just as likely to back this reform?
PILEGGIMy intent is not to favor the Republican's candidate for president or the Democratic candidate for president. My intent is, very simply, to have the popular vote, the -- of the people of Pennsylvania for president more closely reflected in the Electoral College vote. And that principle cuts both ways. It's not a winner-take-all system, whether the Republican candidate wins or the Democratic candidate wins.
GJELTENYou know, one of the things that goes with a winner-take-all system is that states become really important swing states. Pennsylvania is a classic swing state. That gives you more leverage, doesn't it? And I know there are some --as you say, some members of your own party that worry about Pennsylvania losing its swing state status as a result of a change like this.
PILEGGIWell, I have heard some commentary about the loss of leverage, loss of clout, loss of prestige, but I have yet to hear people quantify any of those terms. No one can point to any great benefit to Pennsylvania citizens that comes from those concepts over the last two presidential election cycles.
GJELTENSo, Senator, what's the timeline here? When will you be having hearings on this bill? What's your expectations for its prospects?
PILEGGIWe will have a hearing in the State Government Committee of the Senate in Harrisburg tomorrow. It will be a hearing of several hours. We're still finalizing the agenda for the hearing, and we will not seek to vote the bill out of a committee tomorrow. We'll take a look at the testimony that was presented at the hearing and then make a decision about going forward after that hearing is concluded.
GJELTENAnd what's your sense for the support for your proposal right now?
PILEGGII've gotten very strong support in the Senate, in my caucus. I have not tried to gauge support in the House, the House leadership. House Republican leadership has been, on the record, supportive of the bill. The governor has been very supportive of the bill and has spoken in favor of the bill, so I have been pleased with the intensity of support very early on.
GJELTENOkay. Sen. Pileggi, thank you very much for joining us.
GJELTENThat's Pennsylvania's Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. He joins us -- joined us by phone from Chester, Pa. Amy Walter, just refresh us. Give us a little civics lesson here. Remind us how the Electoral College system works and how this change that's being considered in Pennsylvania would really affect the national picture.
WALTERSure. I would like to say it's just one big college campus, and they have a -- you know, every year, they get together and have a big game. But it actually doesn't work that way. Every state has a certain number of Electoral College votes -- and we know that they do -- except for there are a couple of states that do hand them out proportionally. This is Maine and Nebraska.
WALTERYou could actually -- they can actually split their electoral votes based on how those candidates do by congressional district, so this would not be a first.
GJELTENAnd would it be...
WALTERThat's why he would not be the first state, but it would be the biggest.
GJELTENBasically, would the Pennsylvania change be the same as what they have now in Nebraska and Maine?
WALTERThat's basically what it is, that you'd win -- if you win a congressional district, you can win the actual -- an Electoral College vote. And then there's at-large votes that go to the overall winner.
WALTERThe real issue here -- and there are some Republicans who are against this idea, in Pennsylvania and nationally, because their argument is, look, the way that Democrats win in a state like Pennsylvania is they go in, especially in the big urban areas, and they turn up the vote in those areas. And they don't really care what's happening necessarily in some of the far-flung districts because you don't win votes by district.
WALTERYou win them by the total vote. You get out of the state. If you go to a district-by-district proposal, some Republicans are worried, uh oh, this means Democrats are going to start trying to pick up votes in these congressional districts, and they're going to make those districts much more competitive. We could lose a House seat because of this.
GJELTENWhit, how do you view this? What do Republicans in the national level feel in general about this Pennsylvania reform proposal?
AYRESWell, I think, it varies depending on which Republican you talk to, but this is essentially an effort, Tom, to try to make the Electoral College conform more closely to the popular vote. And, ultimately, if you support this kind of reform, you might as well do away with the Electoral College and just go with the popular vote winner.
AYRESThat, of course, has strong opponents in smaller states that now count in the Electoral College math, but would not count in a popular vote math. But this is the first step toward that ultimate end.
GJELTENAnd what's the consequence of doing it on a -- you know, a state-by-state basis? I mean, we're not going to go to a popular vote, except by a national decision. But what does it mean for states to make their own decisions about how to allocate electoral votes?
AYRESIt depends completely about which states do it. If California goes to a district-by-district allocation of electoral votes, all of a sudden, Republicans get a whole lot more interested in California, where they probably will not be barring some kind of unusual candidate match-up because California goes so overwhelmingly for the Democrats, same with New York.
AYRESRepublicans will be a lot more interested in upstate New York, for example, than they would if it's a winner-take-all system. So it really depends upon which states do it, the impact of it on the presidential campaigns.
GJELTENBill, what would been -- Bill Burton, what would have been the consequences of a change like this in 2008, in the 2008 election?
BURTONWell, 2008, I think, you would have seen, like both Amy and Whit said here, a focus on districts that weren't necessarily focused on in the race. But, you know, overall, I think, people would agree that there are very good reasons to reform the Electoral College. But a proposal like this is really partisan in its intent.
BURTONAnd the unintended consequence for a place like Pennsylvania is that you have a state where you could actually end up getting more electoral votes in the state, even though you don’t win the popular vote in that state, and so, thereby, you're decreasing Pennsylvania's nationwide importance.
GJELTENBill Burton, he is a senior strategist with Priorities USA Action and a former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House. I'm also joined by Amy Walter, political director for ABC News, and Whit Ayres, president of Ayres, McHenry & Associates. He's currently polling for Jon Huntsman's super PAC.
GJELTENWe'll be talking more in this hour about the Electoral College map and how considerations about demographics and the way those votes in the Electoral College are allocated. I'm Tom Gjelten.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. We're talking about the electoral map in preparation for the 2012 election. My guests are: Whit Ayres, he's president of Ayres, McHenry & Associates, currently polling for Jon Huntsman's Super PAC, Amy Walter, she's political director for ABC News, Bill Burton. He's the senior strategist with Priorities USA Action and a former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House.
GJELTENYou can join us with your questions, your comments. Our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. That's 1-800-433-8850. You can email us at email@example.com, or join us on Facebook or Twitter. Bill, we were talking before about the proposal to change the way Pennsylvania's electoral votes are allocated in this election, and you said it was a partisan move.
GJELTENDo you see sort of a broader strategy here on the part of Republicans to sort of change the rules for -- change the election rules for partisan political reasons?
BURTONWell, there's some good reporting on this just today in The New York Times that, state by state, there is an effort, nationally, by Republicans to make it harder for Hispanics, for African-American voters, for younger voters, for the disabled all to vote. That's not the way it's being sold, of course, if you go on a state-by-state basis.
BURTONBut if you take a state like Wisconsin, just for example, a place where it's traditionally been a swing state, what they've put forward is a proposal that would make it so hard for students to vote. It would take something like 17,000 students just on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus off the table for voting. Now, this is a state that, in 2004, John Kerry won with just 11,000 votes. So you're already taking 17,000 students out of the equation.
BURTONAnd if you look state by state at what's happening there, what you have is an effort that could take literally millions of voters off the rolls. And, frankly, this is to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. I think the New York Times today called it a solution in search of the problem. And, you know, it's unfortunate because what you're doing is you're disenfranchising millions of voters with a very partisan intent.
GJELTENWhit Ayres, do you think there's a problem with voter fraud? And is that a sensible justification for some of these changing -- changes requiring more voter identification, et cetera?
AYRESThere's no question that requiring, say, a picture ID to vote makes eminently good sense. We require a picture ID to get on an airplane. We require a picture ID to enter buildings. We require picture IDs to do almost anything that you need to do in American society. And it strikes me as bizarre that Democrats would object so strenuously to requiring a picture ID to do something as important as elect the leaders of the free world.
AYRESIn Georgia, the picture ID legislation provides a free picture ID to anybody who doesn't have one. So it seems like an eminently reasonable requirement. And it strikes me as a touch paranoid on the part of those who oppose such a requirement to say that somehow you're suppressing a vote because you won't have somebody have a free picture ID when they go to the polling place.
GJELTENBut you would be suppressing those votes of voters -- registered voters, legally registered voters -- who, for whatever reason right now, don't have a photo.
AYRESNo, you wouldn't. Because you're going to give them a free picture ID if they don't have one, Tom.
GJELTENWhat percentage of voters don't have a voter ID now that would have to get one?
AYRESIt's very small. It's very small. But whatever percent, they should be allocated, or they should have the route to get a picture ID so that they can exercise their right to vote. Nobody is saying that we shouldn't have people who are legitimate registered voters vote in election. We all want every registered voter to vote. All we're saying is, let's make sure they are who they say they are, and they live in the district where they say they live.
AYRESIt's a simple requirement that we impose on almost every other aspect of American society.
GJELTENAmy Walter, has there been any sort of calculation? I mean, if Whit is correct and people -- anybody that wants to -- seriously wants to vote, I mean, right now, they have to register. That takes a bit of an effort on their part to register. If it's just a simple matter of getting an ID, it seems like that would be a good idea to have an ID in any case, right?
WALTERWell, I think we have two issues. The first is -- and we learned this in 2000 -- that -- despite the fact that there's a national Election Day, there's not national election law. So each state makes up its own rules, and each state makes up its own ballots. And there's everything from when you can vote, when you can register, what you need to show up at the polls.
WALTERThe second piece is, you know, our society is moving more and more toward a 24/7, on-demand, do-everything-over-the-Internet society. Election Day seems really anachronistic, doesn't it, right? You can only show up one day during certain hours to cast something that is very important. So we're not just talking about who can show up at the polls, how you prove that, but also who can vote -- how you vote early.
WALTERThis is where a lot of the laws are going at, too. How long should early voting go? Should you have a week? Should you have two weeks? Should you be able to show up at your polling place? Can you do it online?
WALTERLike, we're -- this is only going to get more and more complicated as we try to make our Election Day correspond to what our -- what has now become just a fact of life for Americans, which is you just don't do anything between one certain hour and one other certain hour. Maybe we can find a way to TiVo our elections somehow.
GJELTENBill, what's the importance of Get Out The Vote campaigns for both parties, but particularly for the Democrats who are trying to reach a lot of young voters? And how do you feel -- how Democrats feel about proposals to, in a sense, make it a little bit more -- require a little more effort to get to the polling station?
BURTONMm hmm. Well, in some of these places, that effort is even bigger than being able to register on time, et cetera. You know, I agree with what Whit says here, that, for most things, you do need a federal ID in the United States in order to get on a plane, to -- excuse me -- to participate in a wide variety of things and public life. However, in a place like Wisconsin -- you talked about the Georgia example -- in Wisconsin, what you need is a state photo ID.
BURTONAnd so for a lot of the students who are on campus, who come in from out of states but live in the community of Madison or in La Crosse or Milwaukee, they're not -- they can't even -- they don't even have access to get the sort of ID that you would need to vote. So they have no chance whatsoever. And in a place like Texas, you can go and vote with your gun license, for example, but you can't use your student ID to do it.
BURTONSo Get Out The Vote efforts are very important. And this year, more than any, with some 30 states trying to change their election laws in a fundamental way for Election Day, the registration effort is going to be critically important as well. So you can bet that Democrats and Republicans are doing everything they can to make sure that their folks are registered and ready to go on Election Day.
GJELTENWhit, how important are the changing demographics of our population to the election next year? And what do they mean for the Republican Party? Who are the voters, the new voters that you're trying to reach?
AYRESDemographics is destiny. And the demographics of this country are changing dramatically. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, 88 percent of American voters were white. In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, 74 percent of the registered voters nationally were white. If we had the same demographics in 2008 that we had in 1980, John McCain would be president of the United States today. That's what demographics does for you.
AYRESThe Republicans have got to do better among non-white voters. That's -- I think it's particularly true among Hispanics, which is the fastest growing segment of the population. Hispanics have now passed African-Americans as the largest minority group. And so it is very important if Republicans are going to continue to be competitive in states like Florida and Texas and Arizona and Colorado that Republicans do better among Hispanics.
AYRESThey can do that. George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote when he ran for re-election in 2004. So it's perfectly possible for Republicans to reach out, campaign in Hispanic communities and get a very significant share of the Hispanic vote. But that's one of the major challenges, going forward, for the Republican Party.
GJELTENAnd, conversely, for the Democrats, right, Amy? Keep Republicans from doing that.
WALTERWell, that's right. Although -- and Whit's exactly right, that, you know, you look at where the battleground states are going to be in 2012: Nevada, Colorado, two prime examples, very high Hispanic population there. But even Northern Virginia, right? Virginia, now -- used to be considered a bright red state, now battleground, thanks in large part to Hispanic growth there.
WALTERBut what you're seeing right now in the Republican primary is the difficulty of taking the concept of reaching out to Hispanics in a general election with the reality of winning a primary. And Rick Perry who's -- who has had, as a border state governor, a record on immigration that fits very well with the state, doesn't translate very well to Republican primary voters in other parts of the country.
WALTERAnd he's been getting a tremendous amount of blowback for that. And, you know, you saw in the debate a couple of weeks ago where he even came out and said, if you don't agree with my position, I think that you're actually heartless. He's since sort of backtracked, saying maybe heartless wasn't the right word.
WALTERBut the point is, his position in a general election does get him to the place where George W. Bush was with an ability to get 44 percent or more of the Hispanic vote. But can you make it through a primary with that position, is going to be the real question.
GJELTENWell, Bill Burton, the issue with primary voting is that you have very different bases that you have to appeal to. And on the one hand, you do want to appeal to new demographic groups, but, on the other hand, you have to pay a lot of attention to some of these wedge issues that may work in an entirely different way, right?
BURTONRight. It is -- it has been fascinating to watch the dance on Hispanic voters in the Republican primary so far. And I really think that the untold story here is how Mitt Romney is using this attack on Rick Perry in such a way that he's really disqualifying himself with a lot of Hispanic voters later on.
BURTONThere may be a long time between now and the general election, but, frankly, Democratic groups are not going to let folks forget that Mitt Romney in the primary said things like, most immigrants are here for a free ride and things like that. I think that in that way the primary is hurting Republican chances to reach out to what is the fastest-growing, and critical, blocks of voters.
WALTERBut I -- you know, I think that is true. But the other question is, for Democrats to hold on to Hispanic voters, they have to recognize as well that this is a very different election than it was in 2008. The economy is the number one issue for any group, regardless of your ethnicity, jobs, and concern about who's going to be able to get us to the next step, get America out of this economic recession that we're in.
WALTERAnd, you know, right now, I think that's going to be as much of a challenge for the Democrats to be able to sell that as it is for Republicans to be able to sell themselves as more compassionate on this issue.
AYRESAmy's exactly right. The polling we've done with resurgent republic among Hispanics in Florida, Colorado and New Mexico shows President Obama underperforming among those groups that were so critical to his election in 2008. And it's because of the economy, exactly what Amy said.
BURTONWell, the president is underperforming with just about every group right now. The economy is not in a great place, and I think there's a real challenge to get a lot of the groups back.
GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join us on Facebook or Twitter. Folks, let's now talk about the primary schedule. We have the example of Florida jumping ahead of other states, New Hampshire and Iowa, to schedule its primary in Jan. 31. Whit Ayres, what effect is that going to have?
AYRESIt scrambles the deck in a way that's challenging for presidential campaigns, but, basically, what it does is push everything forward. The secretary of state in New Hampshire, who has the legal authority to set the date to ensure that the New Hampshire primary is first in the nation, said over the weekend that he may very well set the primary in December. He'll set the primary on Thanksgiving if that's what it takes to make sure that New Hampshire is first.
GJELTENSo everything just keeps moving forward, doesn't it?
AYRESExactly. Everything keeps moving forward, and it's not at all inconceivable to think that we could be voting around Christmastime.
GJELTENWell, does that make it -- how much harder does that make it for other candidates to jump in? I mean, we're still waiting to see about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Of course, there's Sarah Palin of Alaska. As these things move forward, there's a shorter period of time, isn't there, between now and that first primary?
AYRESThat's exactly right, Tom. The window is closing very, very fast. People underestimate just what it takes to get a presidential campaign up and running, just the simple technical things, like getting on a ballot, getting signatures in Vermont. I mean, it takes a huge amount of effort to get a presidential campaign off the ground. That's why peoples tend to start so early. But the window is closing very fast on any other candidate.
GJELTENAmy Walter, does compressing this -- the primary calendar have any sort of differential impact on Republicans or Democrats? Is it better or worse for either one?
WALTERWell, right now, obviously, all the action is on the Republican side. And we just found out -- breaking news here -- that South Carolina is going to hold their primary -- they just announced this morning -- on Jan. 21, which goes exactly...
GJELTENTen days ahead of Florida's.
WALTERTen days. They wanted a bigger gap between Florida. We were hoping it would be the 28th of January -- we, meaning reporters -- so that we wouldn't be spending our holidays in Des Moines, in New Hampshire. They're wonderful places. I just would like to spend my holidays with my family...
BURTONBring your family.
WALTER...which means -- yeah, we get to bring the family to Des Moines. But the reality is it is pushing this calendar up even further than where we thought. Look, I think this is what -- we have to remember something else about the primary calendar. This is brand new for Republicans. They are going to -- these states that skipped into January now lose half of their delegates. That's according to the Republican Party rules.
WALTERSo they have fewer delegates now that you can win. Then you also have the reality that any state, according to Republican Party rules -- new this year --that goes before April, now have to give their delegates out proportionately. It used to be a winner-take-all system. So what we saw in 2008 with the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama back and forth all through June -- this person won this many primaries. This person won this many.
WALTERWe saw the delegate count go every single day, moving inch by inch, may be similar to what we see on the Republican side because of this proportional voting, and because what we're going to have is a whole bunch of states in January. We may have an answer. Somebody may have enough of the votes to look like the foregone frontrunner and winner, maybe not.
WALTERWe have this gap in February, and then we move to "Super Tuesday" in March, which may then prolong us into April.
GJELTENBill Burton, how did Democrats see this compression of the primary calendar, given that you only really are going to have -- you only have one candidate, so there's really no primary election. Is this good news for you? And how would it affect a super PAC, like the one you founded recently?
BURTONWell, for starters, the other way that this could play out -- the different scenario is that Republicans pick their nominee much quicker than they might otherwise pick him or her, and I think that that's not good for the Republicans for a couple of reasons. First, one of the advantages that President Obama had to have in the extended primary that went all the way into June, is that he built up a nationwide organization, state by state, that was there and ready to go by the time the general election came around.
BURTONAnd also, the Democrats took a lot of the oxygen for the coverage of what was happening. The second reason that this might not be good for the Republicans is that it's -- it takes a longer time before this becomes a choice instead of just a referendum on Obama.
GJELTENGood enough. All right. Coming up, your calls and questions for our guests on election 2012, and all the strategizing that's taking place in advance of that election. Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking this morning about election 2012 and the strategizing that's taking place. Joining me are Whit Ayres -- he's president of Ayres, McHenry & Associates, currently polling for Jon Huntsman's super PAC -- and Amy Walter, political director for ABC News, and Bill Burton.
GJELTENHe's senior strategist with Priorities USA Action and the former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House. Please join us. I'm sure you have a lot of comments or questions. You can call us on 1-800-433-8850. Send us your email at email@example.com, or join us on Facebook or Twitter. And let's go now to Daniel, calling us from South Bend, Ind. Daniel, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DANIEL...for taking my call.
GJELTENYes. Go ahead, Daniel.
DANIELSo my question has to do with what I heard, I think his name was Dominic Pileggi, say...
GJELTENYes, the Pennsylvania legislative leader.
GJELTENThe leader of the Pennsylvania state -- Republicans...
DANIELYes, exactly. That's right. And I was very sympathetic to what he said about wanting to make voting more representative of the wishes of the people in Pennsylvania. But what he said sounded at best sort of disingenuous to me, or at very least I was confused by it, because it seems to me that if you move the voting allocation to districts, you're still really stuck with the same problem.
DANIELI mean, it would be possible, at least mathematically, that someone could win 51 percent of each district and thus get all of Pennsylvania's votes while still only winning just barely more than half of Pennsylvania. So I wonder why it wouldn't be better, if it were possible, to allocate all of the votes on a proportional system based on the statewide popular vote.
DANIELI mean, it seems that if you just keep these things down to the district level, you are really just reproducing the same problem as you have on a state-by-state basis.
GJELTENAmy Walter, do you have a thought on that?
WALTERAnd I was just trying to do the math in my head. It's not my strong suit here. But, you know, we brought this up at the very beginning, which is, you know, the point of the Electoral College. And it really comes back to this, which is we decided -- not we, but the Founding Fathers long ago. And this is the fairest way in some ways. Some can argue that it wasn't because it was a way to protect the republic from the will of the popular vote.
WALTERBut what it has done, in essence, is to take smaller states and give them a bigger say in the election of the president than they would have if these were done purely on a popular vote.
WALTERAnd if you're going to take each state then, if we did the math and said, well, in order to be able to get this percentage of -- you can only get a certain percentage of the vote based on -- I mean, of the delegates based on the percentage of the vote that you got there, it looks like a big fat mess to me is actually what it looks like because, remember, the bottom line is you need 270 electoral votes to be president of the United States.
WALTERIf you do not get the 270 votes, it goes to the House of Representatives. And that is the scenario that we haven't seen, obviously, in modern times and one in which I don't know that many people would be particularly happy to see.
GJELTENWhit Ayres, what is the status of this move to having a popular vote determine the president? We, of course, saw this famously in 2000, when Al Gore got a few more votes than George W. Bush. What is the status of that move right now?
AYRESA lot more talk than action. We always talk about it theoretically, but, as a practical matter, it would require such a fundamental change in how we elect the president that I don't see the political desire or incentive to do that at this point. What Daniel says is right, theoretically. If one candidate won 51 percent of every district across Pennsylvania, you'd have the same Electoral College outcome. But as a practical matter, that wouldn't happen...
AYRES...not with voting patterns. You would have some -- the Republican candidate would win some districts. The Democrat would win some districts. And you would end up splitting Pennsylvania's electoral vote. And then you get back to the point Bill raised early on, and that is that you really have somewhat less impact for Pennsylvania as a major swing state up against the other states that allocate their electoral vote's winner-take-all.
GJELTENWe also have a number of listeners who are commenting on the idea of requiring voters to show picture IDs. Nancy from -- I guess she's from Ohio -- says that if we -- that free picture IDs can only come in Ohio -- are only given out in Ohio once in four years, so students who move frequently wouldn't have as much of a chance to get an ID.
GJELTENAlso, Anne writes that her 96-year-old mother has voted in the same place since she turned 21. "She doesn't have a picture ID. Do you honestly think I should just take her to the DMV just so she can vote?" Quite a stack here with -- of people who are coming up with practical ideas or practical comments about why requiring picture IDs is not such a great idea.
AYRESAnd what is the big objection to requiring for an election that picks the leader of the free world the same requirement that you have to drive a car, to get on an airplane, to participate in modern life? You can give them out for free. Now, this whole issue about students voting is a separate sub-issue that has gone on for years in college towns. It's a whole town and gown dispute.
AYRESDo you require the students to vote in the town where they are from, where their residence is? Or do you allow them to vote in Charlottesville or Chapel Hill or some university, Madison, some university community? That has all kinds of other implications for those communities themselves. But that's really a sub-issue.
AYRESThe voter ID, the picture ID for requiring to vote is a simple commonsense requirement that's supported by 80 percent of Americans.
GJELTENEighty percent of Americans. Bill Burton.
BURTONWell, I think, like I said before, this is -- if there were some reason that we are -- if we are uncovering fraud in some serious way, if we were seeing that all these people were trying to impersonate other people to get in and vote, yes, maybe there would be a big problem there. But the consequence of having a law like this keeps people who don't have picture IDs, or have a lot of reasons for not necessarily having one, from voting.
BURTONAnd since it's not a problem and since it disenfranchises some millions of voters, I think there's a good reason not to move forward, keeping all these folks from participating in the democracy where they participate in other ways.
GJELTENBill Burton. He's a senior strategist with Priorities USA Action, former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House. Let's go now to Bobby who's calling us from Tyler, Texas. Hello, Bobby. You're on the air.
BOBBYHi. Yeah, at the beginning of this conversation, the changes to the Electoral College votes were presented as a way to better represent the population. On principle, that sounds like a great idea to me. Throughout the conversation, there has been pros and cons weighed about it and how it can be manipulated for the upcoming election. I think the upcoming election should be irrelevant because we should be moving toward a more coherent and effective system.
BOBBYA couple of things I wanted to touch on. My understanding is that the Real ID Act was passed, and so very soon in the future, everyone's going to have to have a photo ID. And since it would be federal, I would think it would be valid at any voting place anywhere in the country. Another point, the post office is in trouble.
BOBBYIs there any way that we could somehow utilize the post offices that are needing money, not being well used, bring that into, you know, polling or handing out these IDs, places you can take the picture where you can -- you can take pictures at post office for your passport, so why not for your ID card?
BOBBYAnd then the last point is kind of slightly off topic, but you guys mentioned the Hispanic voters. Rick Perry's comment about using the armed forces to get control of the drug war in Mexico, how does everyone think that's going to go over with Hispanic voters? Thank you.
GJELTENWell, we actually -- we did -- talked about this a little bit earlier. Amy, let's talk first about his ideas. There might be some practical ways to make it easy for people to get IDs.
WALTERYeah, I love his idea about the post office. This -- he should go over and maybe come in front of Congress. They're debating right now how they're going to get the post office to get some more money, even though in so many of these communities, those post offices have already shut down. So if you live in a rural area and the nearest post office is 25 miles away and you don't drive, that's not going to be particularly helpful for you.
WALTERAlthough, theoretically, you could put it in the mail, right, and get it there. You know, I think this comes back to the bigger question, again, of, you know, what is it that the Electoral College is supposed to do? And what's the difference between winning the Electoral College vote and winning a congressional vote? Congressional districts are supposed to be created to give representation of the people, the 750, 000 or so people, who live in that area.
WALTERThey may feel very differently about the political, the person in the office or in the White House or the person who that state decided to give its Electoral College votes to than other people in that state, but they get to choose their representative in Congress, and that person is supposed to take their position to Congress and, eventually, of course, to the White House.
WALTERThat's a very different -- that's why we have the different branches of government, and it's why we set the system up the way that we did. So to create a system by which you have each individual congressional district weighing in on Electoral College vote becomes a very complicating process, number one, and also dilutes the difference between those two branches.
GJELTENWell, Clyde from Syracuse, N.Y., is writing with an interesting question. He wonders how this change would affect the prospects of third party candidates. "Do your guests know how the congressional district allocation of Electoral College votes would have affected some of the recent elections, for example, involving Ross Perot or Ralph Nader?" Whit, do have any thoughts on that? Whit Ayres.
AYRESIf there's a serious third party candidate who could legitimately win a number of congressional districts, then you increase the prospect that Amy mentioned, that no candidate gets 270 electoral votes, and you end up with the House of Representatives picking the president.
WALTERAnd nobody is going to be happy with that. Trust me, not nobody. Whoever the majority in the House, those people will be happy. But anybody who's not of that party, not going to be happy at all.
GJELTENIgnacio, calling us from Miami, Fla., you have a quick question.
IGNACIOYes. Going back to that state senator from Pennsylvania. I think his proposal is disingenuous, if not downright dishonest, because in trying to achieve proportional allocation of voting -- of votes by congressional district, what he is doing is reflecting the reapportionment that his legislature is just about to enact with all the gerrymandering and all the biases that go in any and all reapportionments so that what he is doing is a maneuver to favor his party.
IGNACIOIf he really wants to achieve proportional allocation of votes to make the election in Pennsylvania more democratic, they would just simply take the totals and divide them among the -- proportionally among the candidates, not by congressional district.
IGNACIODoing it by congressional district is a farce. And, by the way, what do you do with absentee voting if you require photo IDs?
GJELTENOkay. Ignacio, you've given us several things to think about here. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1800-433-8850. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill, Ignacio is talking about gerrymandering. And gerrymandering is done regardless of who's in charge. Any party wants to reallocate votes according to their own interest, isn't that right?
BURTONWell, different states go through the redistricting process differently. California has a commission. Different states have a varied partisan ways of doing it. But, I think, the point that Ignacio makes, that this is -- that the intent isn't exactly what the proposal is, is the right one. You know, the Quinnipiac did some polling in Pennsylvania. Folks thought that both -- you know, they were against this idea and thought that the intent was partisan.
BURTONCentre Daily news has an interesting editorial on this from last week. That's a paper in Pennsylvania, calling this a big power play for Republicans who control the state Senate now. So I think there are a lot of reasons to take a hard look at this and be concerned about what the outcome is, no matter what your political party is in Pennsylvania.
GJELTENRachel -- actually, it's Bryan, who's writing us an email. He raises an interesting point. You know, we were talking earlier about this compression of the voting calendar. He thinks that in the United States, there is too much time put into campaigning, too much money put into campaigning. We see in other countries -- Britain comes to mind -- much shorter electoral cycles. Whit Ayres, what do you think of that?
GJELTENMaybe this would be good for democracy to sort of, like, reduce the amount of infatuation in money that goes into this campaign.
AYRESWe spend far more money on dog food than we do on electing all of the elected representatives in the entire country.
AYRESWe do not spend too much money based on the consequence and the import of who gets into political office in this country.
GJELTENAmy, do you agree with that?
WALTERI'm sitting right between two people who spend a lot of that money, and I report on it. So, of course, very important.
AYRESRight. It's -- that's our life blood.
WALTERTo our life blood. But, look, I think, what we have learned in this process, again, is the way that Americans are taking and processing this information becomes very important. And, yes, we are talking about the leader of the free world, many cases we're talking about Senate and House races that go on for quite some time, too.
WALTERFinding out the information, the background, the detail of who these people are is a very complex process that takes a long time to play out. And this goes to the point of the person we haven't talked about yet, which is Chris Christie, and the idea, is he going to get in and run? It's getting really late. It's already October. Does he have time to get in? And, you know, we have two things working here.
WALTERWe have this compressed calendar, but we also have a compressed process by which we do reporting now, right? In the olden days, it would take some time for this information to get out. Now, on the Internet, it'll get out in about 15 seconds. But that doesn't mean that we're processing it more quickly. A lot of data is going to be -- is thrown at you as a voter.
WALTERYou have to have that time, too, to process it, to watch it go through the system, watch the candidate respond, other candidates respond, and then have the follow-up to it. And that takes more than just a couple of weeks.
GJELTENBill Burton, your thoughts?
BURTONWell, you know, I know that I'm at a super PAC, and our intent is to raise quite a bit of money for this election.
BURTONBut, ultimately, you know, it's our belief that there is too much money in politics. The rules -- excuse me -- are imperfect. And, you know, but the bottom line is you can't get control of the rules unless you have control of the system. And so our view is that we're just going to make sure there's a level playing field.
GJELTENGood enough. Bill Burton, he is a former deputy press secretary at the Obama White House. I was also joined this morning by Whit Ayres. He's president of Ayres, McHenry & Associates, currently polling for Jon Huntsman's super PAC. We didn't talk about the Huntsman campaign this morning. And Amy Walters, she is political director for ABC News. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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