Popular Vote Compact: The Reason The Federalist is Freaking Out

So, a few days ago, the Federalist tweeted out an article with this ominous sounding post: “Democrats Are Dangerously Close To Changing Laws So Our President Is Elected By Popular Vote.”

Besides making it clear that Republicans are terrified of democracy and regular ol’ Americans choosing their elected officials, it also renewed interest in the Popular Vote Compact.

In a Pew Research poll from 2021, they found that 55% of Americans were in favor of moving away from the Electoral College to choose our president, while 43% still wanted to keep the Electoral College. These percentages were mostly unchanged from the previous year, and generally fell along traditional party lines.

That said, the Electoral College is in the Constitution so we can’t just get rid of it without rewriting the entire Constitution. We could pass an amendment, but that would require 2/3 of both the House and the Senate agreeing to the amendment AND then getting 38 states to ratify the amendment. Tall order.

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

Let me break it down for you, and then show you how you can get involved in making it a reality.

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.

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. But that’s a tall order, so 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 16 electoral votes. In the 2020 election, Trump won 2.3M votes to Hillary’s 2.1M votes, so he got their electoral votes. If the Popular Vote Compact had been in place, Hillary would have gotten those 16 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 super 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 July 2022, the Compact has passed in 15 states plus D.C.: Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Mexico. That represents 195 electoral votes. We need 75 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. Pay special attention to the states in orange, as that means one of their legislative chambers has passed the Compact bill!

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?

It all depends on if we can flip the state legislatures and governor’s seats in particularly the orange states. And/or have a strong grassroots organization in those states to push legislators to pass the Compact. If the GOP continues to get more and more extreme, and voters respond by voting them out and getting more involved with state legislative elections, it could be sooner rather than later.

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. And Brookings noted in THIS article that the 2020 Supreme Court decision about faithless electors made the legal case stronger for the Compact. 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 (right under the map) 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.

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1 reply

  1. Good article, thank you.To be clear, NPV does not make the Electoral College obsolete; rather, it works within Article II, section II of the constitution, which gives each state legislature the authority to determine how electors will be appointed. 16 state legislatures and DC have determined that they will appoint electors based on the national popular vote. Personally, I would love for the EC to become obsolete! But for those who somehow think it brings some value, recognize that the National Popular Vote works entirely within the constitution–the founders left manner of appointment of electors up the the legislatures, who have every right to choose to join the NPV as their state’s manner of appointing electors. Final thought, for now. Maine legislators said in 2021 “Now is not the time.” So wrong. NPV is one of the most important changes we can make (along with court reform) to save this democracy from the tyranny of the minority.

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