Four states joined the National Popular Vote (NPV) initiative in 2019, bringing it closer to its goal of neutralizing the Electoral College in favor of strengthening the voice of individual voters – and holding candidates for elective office more accountable to voters in every state rather than just the “swing states”.
Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, and Oregon added their 24 electoral votes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, bringing the total number of electoral votes committed to the Compact to 196. Once enough states join the Compact to bring the electoral vote total to 270 or greater, the Compact will go into effect. When this happens, the participating states will commit their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in the country.
Including the four new states, 15 states and the District of Columbia are currently committed to the Compact. Over the last 12 years, eight other states have shown interest in the Compact by passing proposals in at least one legislative chamber. Representing 75 additional electoral votes, passage in those eight states would be enough to put the Compact into effect.
According to the National Archives, there have been more than 700 proposals introduced to Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. Over the last half century, 60 – 70% of the American public has consistently voiced a preference for replacing the Electoral College with direct, national elections. Mounting frustration over failed attempts to abolish the Electoral College, capped by the contentious 2000 presidential election in which the winning candidate actually lost the popular vote, led to the creation of the nonprofit National Popular Vote (NPV) in 2006. NPV is currently the largest movement to modify the impact of the Electoral College.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is not an attempt to change the Electoral College but a mechanism to alter how the states assign their electoral votes. According to the US Constitution, Article II, Section 1, the states can decide how they want to allocate their electoral college votes. Initially, only two of the original 13 states used the “winner take all” method in which all of a state’s Electoral College votes are committed to whichever candidate wins the most votes in the state. By 1836, however, “winner take all” had gained traction in most states. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia abide by the “winner take all” rule.
The Compact will ensure that the candidate who wins the most popular votes nationwide will always win the presidency. NPV argues that candidates will need to compete for votes in every state, not just the swing states where, currently, even the slimmest of victory awards the winner with all of the electoral votes. NPV contends that in 2012, for example, candidates competed in just 12 states – the only states where all 253 campaign events during the general election (after each party had nominated its candidate) were held. Two-thirds of those events were held in only four states. It was not much different in 2016, when over 90% of events were held in 12 states and two-thirds in just six states.
NPV believes that just four states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida – will determine the winner of the 2020 election.
A state that joins the NPV Interstate Compact pledges that its legislature will award all its electoral votes to the president and vice president candidates who win the popular vote nationwide, irrespective of which candidates win in that state. The Compact becomes effective only if those states joining the compact control a majority of electoral votes (270 or more).
Under the Compact, according to NPV, every vote would count regardless of where it was cast. Voters in states where the election result is easily predicted because of party dominance would still have an incentive to vote, and presidential campaigns would no longer be advised to focus only on winning votes in a few battleground states. Rather, candidates would seek to capture as many votes as possible, in whichever state they could find them, in order to achieve the plurality needed to win the election.
A Congressional Research Service report published in October 2019 called the NPV initiative a “novel” approach, and noted both the effort’s recent successes and an equally recent rise in opposition to the Compact. While stating that the public has little awareness of the NPV initiative, the report suggests that this new wave of attention may lead to action by Congress, which is more likely to consider amending the Constitution rather than helping the NPV Interstate Compact to advance much further. A recent Gallup poll indicated that the public would prefer a Constitutional amendment over the NPV Compact. The Gallup report did not comment on whether the poll results were influenced by the public’s lack of awareness of the Compact.
National Popular Vote, “Status of National Popular Vote Bill in Each State”, Jul 11, 2019, https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/state-status, accessed Dec 20, 2019
National Archives, “Electoral College History”, https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/history, Dec 17, 2019, accessed Jan 2, 2020
Alexander Keyssar, “The Electoral College Flunks”, N.Y. Times Review of Books, Mar 24, 2005, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2005/03/24/the-electoral-college-flunks/, accessed on Oct 31, 2019
Jones, Jeffrey M., “Americans Split on Proposals for Popular Vote”, Gallup, May 14, 22019, https://news.gallup.com/poll/257594/americans-split-proposals-popular-vote.aspx, accessed Jan 2, 2020
National Popular Vote, “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote”, Jul 2019, https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/written-explanation, accessed Dec. 29, 2019
Wikipedia, United States Electoral College, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Electoral_College#Evolution_of_selection_plans, accessed Jan 2, 2020, and FairVote, National Popular Vote/FAQ, https://www.fairvote.org/faq_npv, accessed Jan 2, 2020
Congressional Research Service, The National Popular Vote (NPV) Initiative: Direct Election of the President by Interstate Compact, updated October 28, 2019, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43823.pdf, downloaded Nov 5, 2019
Joshua A. Douglas, Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting, Prometheus Books, 2019
Alex Cohen, “The National Popular Vote, Explained”, Brennan Center for Justice, Mar 14, 2019 https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/national-popular-vote-explained, accessed Jan 2, 2020