How Does the National Popular Vote Compact Work?

popular vote

Image via Countable

What if I told you there is a way to make the Electoral College obsolete, and without needing a constitutional amendment. That way is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Especially with more states signing on to the Compact, it seems like a good time to look into it.

Why do folks dislike the Electoral College process?

Two of the last five presidents who won the Electoral College was the loser of the popular vote. That just doesn’t sit well. Surveys show that support for presidents being picked by the popular vote is growing.

Due to the way electoral votes are allocated, voters in some states have more power than voters in other states. For example, voters in Wyoming have nearly four times more influence than voters in California. (Each electoral vote in Wyoming represents about 187,000 residents, but in California each vote represents over 677,000 residents.) All voters should have equal power.

In the most extreme case, it would be possible for a president to win the Electoral College and only win 23% of the popular vote. How well do you think that scenario would sit?

And finally, the Electoral College works in such a way that only a small handful of states become battleground, or swing, states. Presidential candidates spend more than 90% of their time in those battleground states and little to no time in the majority of the nation.

It’s time for a change.

How does the Popular Vote Compact work?

The Electoral College process is in the Constitution so getting rid of it entirely would require a constitutional amendment. How we get a new amendment needs its own article, so for now let’s just say it is hard to do. The first thing to understand about the Popular Vote Compact is that it doesn’t end or even change the Electoral College.

The key is that while the Constitution stipulates that each state (plus D.C.) get a certain number of electors who cast a vote for the President, it is up to the states to determine HOW those electors vote.

Currently, the states assign all of their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the most votes in that state. But there are two exceptions that prove that the Popular Vote Compact can work. Both Maine and Nebraska assign their electoral votes differently. (Some votes are assigned based on the statewide winner, and the rest of their votes are assigned based on the winner of individual congressional districts.)

When states sign on to the Popular Vote Compact, what will happen is that instead of assigning their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in that state, they’ll assign all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in the nation.

Let’s look at an example: Right now North Carolina is considering the Compact. They get 15 electoral votes. In the last election, Trump won 2.3M votes to Hillary’s 2.1M votes, so he got the 15 electoral votes. If the Popular Vote Compact had been in place, Hillary would have gotten those 15 votes because she won the national popular vote.

Does every state need to sign the Compact for it to work?

No. We don’t need the perennial red states to sign on, although we’ll need some purple ones. The Compact takes effect once enough states sign on to get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes. Why? Once we have a coalition of states whose electoral votes add up to 270 (or more), the national popular vote winner gets all those votes, and thereby wins the Electoral College automatically.

How many states have signed on?

As of early April 2019, the Compact has passed in 14 states plus D.C.: Hawaii, Washington, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Mexico. That represents 189 electoral votes. We need 89 more electoral votes.

Here’s a great map that shows who has signed on, and which states have taken some kind of action on the Compact:

 

Capture

As more states sign on, you can find the updated map at this link.

Why I like the Popular Vote Compact

Regular readers of Political⚡Charge know I write about voting rights a lot. I think the right to vote is the key to our democracy, and getting more people to vote is crucial. The popular vote makes it clear that every single vote counts in a presidential election, whereas I don’t think many people feel that is the case right now.

If you are a Democrat in West Virginia, or a Republican in California, your state has allocated its electoral votes to the same party so many times, it would be logical to feel your vote doesn’t count in a presidential election. But if your vote was needed to try and win the national popular vote, that’s a strong incentive to vote no matter what the partisan leaning of your state is.

The other advantage is that presidential candidates would have to pay attention to all of the states because they want the most votes possible, not just those in the battleground states. Most states are ignored in a presidential campaign, but if you want to win the popular vote, you’re incentivized to pay attention to a lot more states.

How soon could the Compact be in effect?

Stephen Wolf at the Daily Kos has a good rundown about how the Compact could be in effect by the 2024 presidential election, which you can read HERE. Note that to get that done, it will be really important to flip several state legislative houses, so be sure to stay active in your local elections.

Legal scholars are split on the Compact, so it is likely to end up in court at some point. Politifact has a good rundown of the potential legal challenges HERE. But we’ll never know unless we get to the magic 270, so let’s do that first and worry about court challenges later.

How can people help get the Compact to 270?

If your state hasn’t passed the Compact yet, you will need to push your legislators to take action. Click on your state at the central National Popular Vote site to get the latest news about the efforts to get it passed in your state, along with a script to use when writing to your state legislators, tips on writing an op-ed in your local paper, and connecting with other like-minded citizens through coordinated social media pages.

Let me know if you have any questions about the Popular Vote Compact in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them.

UPDATE: The original post was published on March 20. I updated it on April 4 to reflect that Delaware and New Mexico had joined the Compact.

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Categories: Explainers

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7 replies

  1. Michigan’s grassroots campaign is actively pushing the bill, which was introduced in both the House and Senate by Republicans last year with strong legislator support. The bills died in committee because of push back from conservative constituents, mostly because they were not clear on how it actually benefits them and all citizens. You can find our campaign on Facebook at National Popular Vote MI or https://www.facebook.com/groups/688528687982161/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re such a good explainer of things!! I like this idea. I think it’s worth going for because the Const. Amendment process has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. Tell me this…do you think this would force candidates to go to where they never would before? Would Dems head to the Deep South and Texas and would Repubs go to California, Wa., and Oregon for instance? I think they would. I’d love it if they tried to visit every state possible…not just the so-called swing states. That, is democracy. Not the crap we have today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do. You’d want to collect as many votes as possible. My guess is they’d hit big cities, but instead of just in a few swing states, they’d hit big cities everywhere. Big TV markets. I think campaigning would look totally different. Surrogates would likely become more important, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Agreed. Makes a lot of sense

    Liked by 1 person

  4. QUESTION: >> If the Compact is successfully implemented, are the member states ‘absolutely’ required to hand over their Electoral Votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, or is there a caveat that would allow them to be exempt if they don’t like the winner of the National Popular Vote?

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I understand it, the process would be automatic. The Compact only works by having the states work as a bloc, so having an escape valve invalidates the point of the Compact. Of course, this will all get tested in court.

      Like

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