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May 5, 2004
Why Not Just Have Nader Endorse Kerry?

Bruce Ackerman, opining in today's New York Times editorial section, attempts to chide Ralph Nader into making his presidential campaign completely pointless. Okay, well, making it more pointless:

With Ralph Nader bobbing along at 2 percent to 7 percent in the polls, now is the time to consider whether our system is flexible enough to avoid another election in which a candidate loses the popular vote but wins the presidency. The answer is yes if Mr. Nader chooses to cooperate.

In November, Americans won't be casting their ballots directly for George Bush, John Kerry or Ralph Nader. From a constitutional point of view, they will be voting for competing slates of electors nominated in each state by the contenders. Legally speaking, the decisions made by these 538 members of the Electoral College determine the next president.

In the case of Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, electors will be named by each state's political parties. But Ralph Nader is running as an independent. When he petitions to get on the ballot in each state, he must name his own slate of electors. While he is free to nominate a distinctive slate of names, he can also propose the very same names that appear on the Kerry slate.

If he does, he will provide voters with a new degree of freedom. On Election Day, they will see a line on the ballot designating Ralph Nader's electors. But if voters choose the Nader line, they won't be wasting their ballot on a candidate with little chance of winning. Since Mr. Nader's slate would be the same as Mr. Kerry's, his voters would be providing additional support for the electors selected by the Democrats. If the Nader-Kerry total is a majority in any state, the victorious electors would be free to vote for Mr. Kerry.

With all due respect to the Yale poli-sci professor, it also renders Nader's run pointless. What Ackerman suggests reduces Nader to another campaign shill for Kerry on the stump, and actually worse than that, postures him as a false alternate choice for those who remain dissatisfied with either Bush or Kerry as candidates. Under Ackerman's scenario, the electors wouldn't be "free" to vote for Kerry if they win the majority of votes -- they'd be required to do so.

In fact, if Ackerman thinks otherwise, let's posit this scenario: Kerry and Nader nominate the same slate of electors, and the combination of the popular vote elects their combined slate. Let's say that Kerry gets 45% of the popular vote in this state, and Nader 6%. Does Ackerman truly think that the electors are "free", at that point, to vote for Nader at the electoral college? Is that the result he endorses -- where the electors decide on their own which of their sponsors they'll support regardless of the popular vote?

What could that lead to? Even if Kerry/Nader electors vote in proportion to the percentage of popular votes received, 6% of electoral votes could be decisive. It would have subtracted 16 votes from Bush in 2000 in a similar scenario on the right, making Gore the winner. It could lead to having a situation where not only does Kerry win a plurality of the popular vote but also nominally wins a majority of Electoral College votes -- but enough of them decide to support Nader (being that they are also Nader electors) that Bush wins the election in the Electoral College despite not having a majority in either popular votes or electors. This nonsense from Ackerman could make the 2000 election look like a garden party.

Ackerman, in his zeal to protect Kerry on the left, proposes a Rube Goldberg solution to what we don't usually consider a problem: free choice. Nader is not Kerry's political or philosophical twin, and distinguishes himself by running a much more consistent far-left campaign than Kerry has in either direction. Kerry has to convince voters that either Nader can't get elected and therefore that he will represent their interests better than Nader. If Nader supporters disagree, Kerry won't get their vote.

Mr. Ackerman, that's how democracy works; it worked that way in 1980 when John Anderson ran independently, and in 1992 when Ross Perot did the same with much more impact than Nader has achieved thus far in his two campaigns. Your suggestion smacks of desperation and little thought to the potential consequences, a disappointing effort for a man with your resume.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 5, 2004 7:01 AM

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