The Founding Fathers were deeply suspicious of direct democracy, which they often disdained as mob rule.
They well understood the doctrine, often attributed to Scotsman Alexander Fraser Tytler, that a direct democracy can exist only until a majority of citizens start to vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.
More importantly, however, it's unlikely the federal union of the 13 original states could have lasted long had the founders not guaranteed the smaller states that their sovereignty -- their freedom to experiment with their own social and economic systems -- would not be swamped by the sheer numbers of their larger neighbors.
But a federal system, in which "reformers" have to fight for change in 50 state capitals, is anathema to those who want to see a large, central government control every aspect of American life. The latest incarnation of this lust for centralized power is the "National Popular Vote," a scheme to allow U.S. presidential elections to be fought and decided only in the country's left-leaning, populous urban centers.
Asserting that, "The occupant of the White House should be the candidate who wins the most votes," California Gov. Jerry Brown this month signed a bill that could hand the state's 55 electoral votes not to the candidate who wins California, but to the candidate who wins the most votes nationally.
Under the proposal, if states representing a majority of electoral votes -- the magic number is 270 -- pass similar legislation, the California bill would activate. To date, legislatures in eight states and the District of Columbia -- representing 132 electoral votes -- have passed laws to join such an interstate popular-vote compact.
In a letter to governors of the several states, House Speaker John Boehner, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry warn, "The goal ... is clear: to put the fate of every presidential election in the hands of the voters in as few as 11 states and thus give to a handful of populous states a controlling majority of the Electoral College."
Leaving aside the violation of constitutional intent and the legal challenges that alone is sure to draw, practical considerations are also daunting, the three men point out.
"The challenges of reconciling the differences in election law among the states should be obvious. One state's electoral votes could end up being cast by voters who are ineligible to vote in another state; or candidates could end up being elected with the electoral votes of a state in which they weren't even qualified to be on the ballot. Moreover, states that sign onto this plan could withdraw from it ahead of any election in which their favored candidate is expected to lose the national vote, destabilizing elections even further."
Furthermore, "The likeliest outcome in a close election would be a recount reminiscent of Florida in 2000 in every single state," the three point out. "This would result in endless litigation. ..."
And under this plan, needless to say, small states such as Nevada would be likely to see a presidential candidate in person only if his plane had to set down with engine trouble.
If Californians want more attention from the presidential candidates, they should consider awarding their electoral votes by congressional district, with their two "senatorial votes" alone awarded according to statewide popular majority -- the system already adopted in Maine and Nebraska.
Voter divisions are far closer in some of those districts, meaning that instead of either taking the Golden State for granted or writing it off as "unwinnable," presidential candidates would likely consider at least segments of California to be once again "worth fighting for."
Along with Nevada.