Popular Vote Support

How Would Campaigns Try to Win the National Popular Vote if That Was the Way to Pick the President?

At a conference aimed at answering this question, carried on C-SPAN, a number of distinguished experts described the many ways the general election, stretching from about June to November every four years, would be different from the current system. Here's a summary, mixing different comments and my own views without attribution and with a little license:

1. Brand. The major parties would create national brands for their candidates. They'd advertise on big national television events, like the Olympics, fall baseball, popular tv shows, and the NFL Sundays. Networks for the first time would get a lot of advertising money. The brands would aim at broad popularity. Extremist views, whether for open borders or open season on immigrants, would be discouraged. 

2. CPM/vote. With every vote worth the same, the major parties would assess the cost of reaching every possible vote regardless of geography. To do so, they'd consider social media ads, local newspaper, local broadcast, local radio, and even billboards and mailings. Like all modern advertising of products, they would aim at assessing the cost of reaching and the ways to appeal to voters on the most individual level possible. For a change, all voters would get attention, and views that appealed to the biggest blocks of voters would be the views espoused by the parties. The parties would change more than the views of the voters would change. As a result, broadly popular views would be endorsed by both parties, such as action against climate change, for gun control, against greater income and wealth inequality, and for cheaper health care. The parties would debate tactics more than premises on these topics. 

3. The result of a cost and issue based analysis would be to find a way to present a pitch to everyone, everywhere. Neither party would take for granted an outcome in any precinct. There'd be no reason to do so. The closer the election, the harder the parties would work to get the attention of the undecided and the possible non-voters, while also building get out the vote systems everywhere in the country. There are several hundred thousand possible Democratic votes in North Dakota no Democratic nominee tries to reach and there are also several hundred thousand Republican votes that in the general election their candidate does not bother soliciting. North Dakota would get attention at last. This is just an example.

4. Turn-out would rise, especially among Latinos and young people, two populations typically ignored and hard to reach in the general election.

5. The winning candidate could truly claim legitimacy.

6. More money would be spent, but as it would shift more toward social advertising and the number of voters would rise then the cost per voter would go down.

7. The parties would use the primary process to increase registration. They would maintain registration records through to the general and use that data to reach voters. Generally participation would rise to registration levels, and therefore voting participation would increase by as much as 20% to 40% in most states.

8. With every vote mattering equally, the parties would argue for better ways to enable voting, such as voting by mail and more access to the polls. The parties would still be motivated to suppress voting for the adversary, but they would limit those efforts to disqualification as opposed to altering methods of voting, because in every precinct both major parties would have votes to get, as opposed to the current system where one party has little to no motivation to battle for votes in as many as 40 states. 

9. The intensity of pursuit of voters in swing states would decline, and the result would be to provide greater continuing support of both political parties by the national party in those and all states. The parties' state structures would rise in importance.

10. Third parties would have a much reduced chance of affecting the outcome, whereas with the current system the much disregarded Nader cost Gore the plurality in Florida in 2000 even though Nader got almost no votes. Indeed, only a national party, built on a broad coalition, could hope to win a national general election if every vote mattered equally. 

Very Different 

On October 7 at the Newseum we will discuss in a conference how different the campaign for president would be if the national vote chose the president. 

The president agrees the two are very different methods. 

As he said this past Tuesday

“If you go by the college, electoral college, that’s a much different race than running popular vote. It’s like the 100-yard dash or the mile. You train differently.”

New MEVC Poll Finds that Voters Support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact; Believe Person who Gets the Most Votes Should be President

A new poll released by Making Every Vote Count today finds nearly two of every three likely voters (62%) support using the national popular vote to decide who the president should be. While previous polls have shown consistent support for using the national popular vote to select the president, this poll asks voters about a specific solution – the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (the Compact). The main reason for the overwhelming support: Americans think every vote should count equally.

Under the Compact, states agree to award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote once states with enough 270 combined electoral votes have enacted the Compact. This action will guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote also wins the Electoral College and becomes president. Four states have enacted the Compact in 2019, bringing the total number of jurisdictions in the Compact to sixteen (fifteen states and the District of Columbia) with a combined total of 196 electoral votes.

 The Compact goes into effect when the number of states that passed it account for a majority of the electors in the Electoral College, which means that additional states with at least 74 votes combined are needed. Then, then the Republic at last will have a truly democratic method of selecting the President – one in which every vote in the United States is weighed equally in the balance when deciding who most of the people want as the Chief Executive Officer of the government. This would be a fair system for all Americans.

Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and co-founder of Making Every Vote Count said, “The American people disagree about many aspects of public life. However, they do actually agree on one problem: how we elect the president. They also agree that a national popular vote, ensuring every vote from every part of the country counts equally, is the solution. It’s time to make this common sense change.”

The survey of more than 800 Americans aged 18+ who are eligible to vote was conducted by Claster Consulting and commissioned by Making Every Vote Count. Respondents were weighted to represent the US citizen voting-age population – 53% women, 47% men; 70% white, 12% African-American, 11% Hispanic, 7% Asian-American; 18% age 18-29, 17% age 30-39, 19% age 40-49, 29% age 50-64, and 19% age 65+.

A summary of the results are highlighted here:

  • 71% of likely voters nationwide agree the candidate who gets the most votes nationwide should become president, including 88% of Democrats, 67% of Independents and 61% of Republicans

  • 65% of likely voters nationwide agree that we should change the rules so the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide always becomes president, including 82% of Democrats, 62% of Independents and 48% of Republicans

  • 62% of likely voters nationwide support using the national popular vote to select the president, including 79% of Democrats, 55% of Independents and 49% of Republicans

  • 60% of likely voters support their state joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, including 79% of Democrats, 54% of Independents, and 44% of Republicans.

For more information on the poll, click here.

Things Could Change

How would the major parties and their candidates behave if they had to win the national popular vote plurality to become president? Making Every Vote Count will hold a conference on October 7, 2019 in Washington, DC to discuss answers to this question.

Here are my somewhat speculative beliefs.

We have to start with a point of view about what happens in the general election of the president. Mine is that this is right: “boosting turnout [in the general election], primary election persuasion, and perhaps persuasion in special elections [such as for ballot measures] are possible…But evidence of persuasion in general elections remained negligible.”

If turnout is the chief goal of the major parties in the general election, then it follows that each of the two will define their bases in a new and different way. Namely, in the first instance they will pay little attention to the geographic location of their likely voters. No longer will they focus on how to obtain a plurality in a handful of states. No more will they identify voters primarily according to zip code and census tract.

Instead, the campaigns, with their billions of dollars, will determine how to achieve a majority of the votes (they need a plurality but will aim at majorities, not knowing how many votes a third or fourth party candidacy may siphon away from the two major parties). To do this calculation, they will analyze the tendencies of all those likely to vote, and also those who are registered but less likely to vote, in every precinct in the country.

Based on the analysis, the Republicans and Democrats will determine the left-right political leaning of the likely and less likely voters. Presumably they will discover that about 45% of the possible national electorate is inclined one way or the other, and about 10% is undecided. That is what most polls suggest.

For these two different bases of their leaners, the Republicans and Democrats will then divide the potential voters into demographic segments. Each segment will be defined by age, gender, religion, race, favorite spoken language. They will poll each segment nationally in order to determine policy preferences.

For example, do Democratic-leaning old Hispanic females attach great priority to preserving Social Security and Medicare? If so, then the Democratic nominee will highlight his or her commitment to that policy, perhaps in Spanish language advertisements, and bewail the risk to these benefits that the Republican nominee will present.

As another example, do Republican-leaning middle aged white males fear an assault weapon ban by a Democratic president? If so, the Republican nominee will want to ask the Democratic nominee in a debate whether he or she will seek such legislation.

Policy will follow pragmatism: the parties are not going to push policies that deny them the possibility of winning the national vote.

The question then presented is how the parties’ policies will change if they must win the national vote to get the prize. My view is that it depends on how many segments need to be bonded into a coalition in order to compose a majority. The Democrats and Republicans have needed only to achieve this feat as against each other in less than ten states. In 2020 they are going to try to build winning coalitions in not many more than Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, while paying relatively little attention to their respective bases in the rest of the country. But to win a national election, the job of building winning coalitions necessarily will require a different calculation.

It may be that opposition to abortion will still be critical to the Republican Party whereas hostility to immigrants may be politically disastrous. It could be that supporting aggressive government action to move to a clean power platform might be a central plank of a Democratic platform, while support for an open border is anathema. Polling and practice will have to answer these questions.

After figuring out the composition of hypothetical national bases, the parties then will decide how to reach their likely voters. Cost is king. I imagine that neither party has unlimited funds, and in any case during the general election timing matters a great deal. My guess is that for the first time in modern political history the parties will each spend money on national television in order to present – “brand” – their candidates during the summer. They will buy advertising time during the Olympics, the World Series, and nationally broadcast football games. Historically, almost no money has gone to national television, because of course only a handful of states have constituted the battleground and it would be a waste to spend advertising dollars on national shows.

On the other hand, the cost for reaching demographic segments through local radio, local television and local newspapers is fairly low in most regions of the country. This is not true in major urban markets, but it would be very cheap for the two parties to buy local media advertising space in the Dakotas, for instance. For the first time in history, the outlets in thinly populated non battleground states would be a valuable way for either party to reach their bases. While their messages would be different, both parties would be able to generate several hundred thousand turned out voters in the Dakotas very cheaply. In most elections the Republicans have left many voters unsolicited and not encouraged to vote in the thinly populated states. They would not pass up the opportunity to run up the score in these places, while Democratic leaning segments would be less numerous but perhaps even cheaper to reach.

In most states it is probable that the general national election would cause the gap between the two parties to close. This might be uncomfortable for state politicians in whichever party now dominates in a particular state. For instance, there’s little doubt the Republicans would seek turnout in California, as opposed to dedicating no advertising or organizing effort to the state now. The result might be revival of the two party system in the Golden State. Perhaps Democrats would not like that. On other hand, in pursuit of this goal the Republican nominee might favor a compromise policy on immigration.

Social media permits advertisers to target consumers by individual identity, advertising with versioned content to each pair of eyes. Such a capability would be used by both parties to encourage their bases to turn out. Mass media does not enable nearly as much individuation in advertising so it is reasonable to think the current trend of spending proportionally more in campaign dollars on social media would continue.

But the targeted voters would be identified without regard to geography. Social media advertising therefore would enable either party to reach all farmers, all Mormons, all Native Americans – all of any segment. As a result, demographic segments that are ignored, and sometimes derogated, by the current system would have much more importance in the election. They would still be subject to the inexorable law of numerosity: if your group is small, your electoral weight is small. But today many populous groups – African Americans are the leading example – have an inequitably minor impact in the general election, because many of their members are located in states where they are outvoted by people in a different political party and so they choose no electors from those states.

It might be that with national voting suddenly relevant, the Republican Party would need to adopt policies more sympathetic to the concerns of African Americans. Just like in Lincoln’s day.

Surely there are many other consequences to adopting a national system. But for sure many myths would be dispelled. All could see that a national election would empower people in states with low population and rural inhabitants, whereas they are taken for granted now. All would recognize that minorities of many kinds – based on religion, race, etc.—would have to be assembled into coalitions to support either of the major parties, while now they are ignored or taken for granted.

Some will argue too that a national election will threaten the viability of national parties. But there’s no way a regional party can win a national election unless and until the country’s electorate decomposes into at least four or five different regional parties. The existing media are not likely to facilitate this development – they present candidates the way they sell burgers, trucks, and software. Everyone gets the same products, with scarcely any regional variation.

However, in the unlikely event that national elections for president cause the deterioration of the existing Republican and Democratic parties, one can ask two questions. How much will they be missed? And doesn’t that mean the antagonists could agree at last on amending the Constitution to create a run-off so that under all circumstances the winner of the presidency has won a majority of the votes cast in the country?

NYT Editorial Board: Fix the Electoral College—Or Scrap It

Following the federal appeals court ruling allowing electors to vote for whomever they please, the New York Times editorial board notes that the Electoral College is not working anything like the way the Founders intended:

“[E]lectors aren’t distinguished citizens weighing whether the people have made a wise decision on their presidential ballot; they are men and women chosen because of their partisan loyalty. So it’s understandable that after years of tightly contested elections, Americans are aghast that an elector would dare to substitute his judgment for the will of the people.”

The piece also notes that “faithless electors” have been, and will continue to be rare, and are merely a symptom of larger problems within the system:

“The point is that faithless electors are not the real problem. What really disregards the will of the people is the winner-take-all rule currently used by every state but Maine and Nebraska. Giving all electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote erases the votes of citizens in the political minority — say, the 4.5 million people who voted for Donald Trump in California, or the 3.9 million who voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. Nationwide, this was the fate of 55 million people in 2016, or 42 percent of the country’s electorate.

The winner-take-all rule encourages campaigns to focus on closely divided battleground states, where a swing of even a few hundred votes can move a huge bloc of electors — creating presidents out of popular-vote losers, like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. This violates the central democratic (or, if you prefer, republican) premises of political equality and majority rule.”

The Editorial Board gives several alternatives to the winner-take-all rule: splitting electoral votes by congressional district, splitting electoral votes proportionally, or the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  We have discussed the problems with splitting electoral votes here and here.  The Compact, on the other hand, is an “elegant solution” that would make votes outside of swing states actually count.  As the Times concludes:

“Critics say that relying on the popular vote would allow the presidency to be decided by the big cities on the coasts, but big cities don’t come close to having enough votes to swing a national election. At the same time, the Electoral College doesn’t do any of the things its defenders claim it does. For example, it doesn’t force candidates to win nationwide support, and it doesn’t protect smaller states, since winner-take-all rules give far more influence to larger states, especially battlegrounds.”

What to do about Baca

Here is the letter we sent to the attorneys general of all states plus the District of Columbia:

Dear Attorney General:

 I write on behalf of the Making Every Vote Count Foundation, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to research and civic education on the merits of choosing the president by means of the national popular vote.

This month the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held unconstitutional a Colorado law providing for the removal of presidential electors who fail to vote for the presidential candidate receiving the plurality of votes within the state, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 1-4-304(5).  See Baca v. Colo. Dep’t of State, No. 18-1173, 2019 WL 3938266, at *2 (10th Cir., Aug. 20, 2019).  According to this decision, no state action of any kind – judicial, legislative or executive – can limit in any fashion the decision of an appointed elector to cast a vote for the President and Vice President of his or her choice. 

 The Baca court correctly acknowledged that each state has “the plenary power to appoint its electors.” Id. at 41.  However, the court also held that after the appointment, “the Constitution identifies no further involvement by the states in the selection of the President and Vice President.”  Id. at 48. Therefore, the court concluded that the Constitution does not empower a state to enforce in any way “a state-required pledge to vote for the winners of the state popular election.”  Id.

The Baca reasoning must bar any legal action to enforce an elector’s promise to vote for a certain candidate.  It also may mean that a state cannot bar from the ballot a slate of electors who promise only to exercise their good judgment in voting for president and vice president.

We believe it is imperative that your office consider the implications of Baca in a timely manner, given the relatively short time frame between now and the preparation of ballots for choosing electors for the presidency that commences in January 2021. We believe that as many as 30 states now have laws and regulations that Baca would invalidate, and others should be aware of what steps they now cannot take.

On the other hand, a state may still enact, and when it is effective also enforce, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  The state has plenary authority, whether acting pursuant to legislation or ballot measure amending the constitution or laws of the state, to determine the manner of appointing electors.  To date, 15 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 196 electors, have enacted the Compact.  It takes effect when enacted in states with electoral votes totaling 270 or more.  When effective, the chief election officer in states that have joined must determine who has won the most votes nationwide.  Based on that determination, the state will appoint the slate of electors nominated by the party whose presidential nominee has won the national popular vote.  The Baca decision does nothing to disturb this procedure.

A state adhering to the Compact may permit electors to aver that they, as a matter of conscience, favor voting for the winner of the national popular vote for president. They may state also that, if appointed, they will act in accordance with their conscience and vote for the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide. The Baca reasoning does not preclude such pledges by would-be electors. 

In order to give guidance to those who might wish to be electors, to political parties, to voters, and even to presidential and vice presidential nominees, we urge you each to issue, as soon as practical, a formal opinion stating whether your state will follow the Baca reasoning, and whether you concur with our view that the Compact in any event may be adopted in any state.

We have consulted with our attorneys at the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP regarding these issues.  Should you wish to discuss this matter further, you may contact me directly or reach our attorneys, Gerard Waldron and Matthew Shapanka, at the firm.  Thank you for your consideration.

 Sincerely yours,

 Reed E. Hundt, Chairman & CEO


Fred T. Goldberg, Jr.

Judge Lisa Foster (Ret.)

James K. Glassman

Richard S. Tedlow

Jake Fuentes

Jennifer A. Holmes


cc:Attorneys General of the 50 States and the District of Columbia

We Can Make Sure the Person who Wins the Most Votes Becomes the President

In two out of the last five elections, the winner of the national popular vote lost the electoral college. This is not a fluke. According to a statistical model from Vinod Bakthavachalam and the Princeton Election Consortium, when the national popular vote is within a 4% margin, there is a 30% chance that the winner of the national popular vote will lose the election. And when the national popular vote is within a 2% margin, the chance of a clash between the national popular vote and the electoral college rises to 40%.

But what can we do about it?  Some people believe that the only way to make sure that the winner of the national popular vote becomes the president is to change the constitution to abolish the electoral college.  But there is another way to work within the system that the founders created and still respect the will of the people: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Here’s how the Compact works: The Constitution gives each state the power to award its electoral college votes as it sees fit.  Right now, all states (except Nebraska and Maine) give their electoral votes to the plurality winner of that state.  However, under the Compact, each member state will give its votes to the winner of the national popular vote. 

The Compact will not go into effect until states with 270 total electoral votes join—the number needed to secure a majority of electoral college votes.  Accordingly, the states will not award their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote until there are enough electoral votes pledged to guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote also wins the electoral college.

The Compact already has 196 votes committed from fifteen states and the District of Columbia.  That’s more than 70% of the way to guaranteeing that the winner of the national popular vote also wins the electoral college. 


Under the current system, millions of people stay at home on election day because they know that their states’ electoral votes are a lock for one candidate or another.  But if states with just 74 more votes join in, we can make sure that candidates pay attention to voters everywhere, not just those who live in swing states. The electoral college will sometimes favor Democrats and sometimes Republicans, but in the long run, everyone will be better off if every person’s vote counts equally.

Think the Electoral College will always favor Republicans? Think again

This article makes the very strong case that demographic shifts may lead to a “purple” or “blue” Texas in the very near future, making it extremely difficult for Republicans to win in the Electoral College as it exists today. Though some Republicans may oppose reforming the presidential selection system because they believe it confers a benefit to their party, the article urges them to rethink that position:

“[Republicans] warn that without the Electoral College, a few big cities would dominate the process, at the expense of rural areas and states. What they ignore is that 1) the 10 biggest cities have only 8% of the U.S. population and 2) urbanites don’t all vote the same way.

Trump got nearly 4.9 million votes in California and 2.8 million in New York — many of them in small towns and rural counties — but under the Electoral College, those votes meant nothing. Someday, the same may be true for the millions of conservatives in Texas.

Democrats take the peculiar view that each citizen’s vote should carry the same weight. They also contend that the candidate who gets the most votes from actual people should win — which happens to be how races for virtually every other office in the country are decided.

If Republicans want to salvage their future, they would be wise to join with Democrats now in pushing to elect presidents by popular vote. Because once Democrats have the upper hand in the Electoral College, they may just decide to keep it.”

Though it is understandable that both parties view the system—and any proposed reforms, particularly the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact—through the lens of the advantages they perceive to their own party, it is clear that all Americans would benefit from having their votes count equally in deciding who becomes the president.

Battle in Colorado

A sign that the national popular vote movement threatens to succeed is this well-funded Republican effort to repeal Colorado's adoption of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. 

The goal for the Republicans is simple: maintain the possibility of obtaining the presidency while having most Americans vote against their nominee. This is called minority rule. It is utterly inconsistent with the Constitution which was specifically designed to have a majority pick the president—a majority of electors, state delegations, or Senators, as the situation required. This original intent has been twisted over time to be a mechanism by which voters in a consortium of states dominated by one party, plus pluralities in five or fewer swing states, choose the president, even while most Americans vote for someone else.

Some Republicans believe their party and the country would be better off if their party did not depend on the archaic and otiose electoral system to produce a Republican chief executive. They are being overcome by the party professionals and big donors who believe Donald Trump represents the sort of nominee the party will continue to produce, like it or not, and that therefore their nominee cannot win the national popular vote. These people generally favor keeping the country on the carbon platform that is burning up the world, maintaining the current levels of income and wealth allocation, and the current tax policies. They may not support the immigration or trade policies of the administration but they believe these stances are useful ways to win the electoral college and so must be tolerated.

Most Americans do not agree with these policies. If the national vote chose the president, neither party would nominate people who deny climate change, adopt racial references to rile up white voters, support extreme income and wealth inequality, or conduct trade wars that raise costs for all Americans. Democracy is, as it is supposed to be, the method of having political leaders do what most people want.

 But in Colorado, not to mention most of the country, you still see people like Governor Hickenlooper in this article, fail to note the importance of the national vote as a fight for democracy. It is time for the national vote reform to battle on a big stage.

To defeat the repeal effort, it will be necessary to contest the issue in three ways:

1. Get national and local attention to the issue, which is democracy versus autocracy. Let there be no mistake: the repeal cause in Colorado has its source in the battle for a permanent minority to choose the president.

2. Coordinate all grassroots activity in Colorado in an open, collaborative manner, with experienced personnel handling the many dimensions of the contest, as was done in the 2018 victories against gerrymandering in Michigan and elsewhere.

3. Use the legal resources of Making Every Vote Count and any other volunteers to take all appropriate issues to all appropriate courts, while endorsing the fundamental idea that a ballot measure to have the people pick the way to pick the president is precisely in line with the fundamental cause here: democracy should be expanded in America. 

Coloradans Write in Support of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

 In March 2019, Colorado became one of 15 states plus the District of Columbia to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Not long after, opponents of the national popular vote began circulating a petition to repeal the Compact that may be on the ballot in 2020. 

But Coloradans who want to make every vote count are rushing to the defense of the Compact: calling friends and neighbors, posting on social media, and writing letters to the editor in local papers.  Here are two great letters that explain how the national popular vote works and why it is in the interest of Colorado—and all Americans—to make sure that every vote is counted and that every vote count’s equally:

Making every vote count in Colorado by Sylvia Bernstein in the Vail Daily

Popularity Contest by Diane Alexander in the Aspen Daily News

Why? One reason is $$

I was telling a friend the other day that his state adopted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and he demurred. "We aren't a democracy and we shouldn't be," he said. Why? "My state is smaller than the really big ones. In a democracy we wouldn't matter."

I pointed out that his state has never had any presidential candidate visit in the modern era. I noted that no small states attract any attention from presidential candidates or elected presidents, with the exception of New Hampshire, a small swing state, and occasionally Nevada. 

He stuck to his guns, the way people do in this era of non-agreement on everything. 

At bottom he does not like democracy. He has his reasons.

But here is one argument in favor of democracy, even if irrefutable thinking about elemental fairness or the virtue of participation in elections doesn't grab everyone.

This paper concludes that democracy produces greater wealth for the whole society.

Listening to voters

According to this article, politicians pay attention to voters. The problem with a president, however, is that to get a second term it is only important to pay attention to the voters in the swing states. More than 80% of the voters are ignored because they are in states where the results are taken for granted.

Here's Why Splitting Electoral Votes Proportionally Is Not the Answer

In another post, we discussed the problems with dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district (in a word: gerrymandering).  Another proposed solution to the winner-take-all problem is allocating electors proportionally based on the votes of the state at large.  Simply put, if a candidate won 70%-30% in a state with 10 electoral votes, 7 votes would go to the winner and 3 to the runner-up. 

The upsides of this proposal are straightforward: more votes would matter, turnout would increase, and candidates would have incentives to seek votes in more places. But proportional representation is unlikely to create a national campaign, nor would it make every vote truly equal.  Indeed, a proportional system may lead to an even more undemocratic result than is likely under our current system.

While there would be fewer wasted votes under a proportional system, it would not make every vote count. Absent a constitutional amendment, the votes would have to be rounded to the nearest whole elector.  So there would still be wasted surplus votes and votes for the runner up that do not count in the final tally.  In close elections, this could lead to the winner of the national popular vote still losing the presidency.

But splitting electoral votes proportionally would raise a whole new problem: a dramatic increase in the likelihood of third-party candidates throwing the election to the House of Representatives.

If a third-party candidate could get enough votes to win just a few electors in a close election, that candidate could prevent anyone from reaching the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.  In such a case, the election would go to the House of Representatives, with each state getting a single vote regardless of population. This is a profoundly undemocratic outcome that would lead to voters losing their voices entirely. 

Looking at past elections, the House would have decided the outcome in at least 2000 and 2016 if electors were awarded proportionally.  But if elections actually occurred under the proportional system, the percentage of elections decided by the House would be much higher as the incentives for third-party candidates grew exponentially. In large states, a third-party candidate would be able to garner at least a couple of electoral votes by winning only a tiny fraction of the vote in that state, and in a close election, that could keep any party from reaching 270.

Once the vote goes to the House, horse-trading, corruption, and backroom deals could lead to a candidate being inaugurated despite having little popular support.  So proportional representation is not cure for the evils in our system and would create a host of new and bigger problems.

There is also a feasibility problem under any proposal that involves splitting votes. Unless all or almost all states signed on, the campaigns would still not be truly national—and many states will be unwilling to split their votes for fear of losing political influence. 

Splitting up a state’s electoral votes makes sense for a few small states—like Maine and Nebraska—that are perpetually ignored.  But most states adopted a winner-take-all system in order to increase their political heft. They wanted candidates to campaign in their states in hopes of winning a large number of electoral votes at once.  Therefore, states will be unlikely to unilaterally split their votes for fear of losing that clout. 

Safe states would hesitate to give up any of their votes to the other party, and swing states would hesitate to lose their special status. And as long as just a few big swing states kept the winner-take-all system, candidates would have a strong incentive to focus their campaigns on those states alone rather than battling it out for the one or two swing electoral votes in most other states.

The best way to make every vote count—and to make presidential candidates campaign for every vote—is to enact the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  Unlike splitting electoral votes, no state is put in the position of unilaterally giving up any influence because the Compact does not go into effect until enough states join to guarantee the winner of the national popular vote will become the president.  And the Compact is over 70% of the way there—only a few more states need to sign on to make it a reality.  When that happens, all votes will count equally—no matter where you live.

Former Romney Strategist: The National Popular Vote is Better for America and Republicans

Republican strategist Stuart Stevens explains that the perceived advantage that the Electoral College gives to Republicans will not last, and that we would be better off with a system in which every vote counts equally:

The argument that abolishing the Electoral College would result in campaigns only targeting large urban areas simply doesn’t make sense. In America’s largest states like California and Florida, candidates campaign all over the state. The benefits of campaign appearances are far more about driving a message than the acquisition of votes in that particular market. In a recent race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Beto O’Rourke campaigned in each of the 254 counties in Texas despite the fact that 84% of Texans live in urban areas. The idea that suddenly, presidential nominees would run campaigns like mayoral races in big cities is a fanciful excuse to justify an outdated system of electing a president.

The Electoral College has never performed as intended, with electors acting as a deliberative check on the whims of a national election. In practice, its only function is to allow for the possibility that the choice of a plurality of American voters will be thwarted and subject America to minority rule.

Mixed News

On the bright side a very articulate presidential candidate seems to grasp that the electoral college system is extraordinarily harmful to Americans.

On the other hand Mayor Pete is apparently not aware that if he and the other candidates spoke up more often they could build support for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to be enacted within the next one to two years. The country cannot wait until the 2030s as he suggests. 

A Note on the National Popular Vote from the League of Women Voters

After it passed both chambers of the Nevada legislature, Governor Steve Sisolak vetoed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Sondra Cosgrove, on behalf of the League of Women Voters, responded to the governor’s action in a thoughtful and well-supported letter rebutting some of the misunderstandings about the Compact. 

In particular, the letter challenges the notion that the Electoral College gives a benefit to small states like Nevada:

In the modern era, political parties use the Electoral College process to conserve resources by focusing on only a handful of battleground states instead of expending the effort needed to treat every voter equally.

So it’s not small states advantaged in the Electoral College system, it’s swing states. In the 2016 election cycle, Florida received 71 campaign visits, Pennsylvania received 54 and Ohio received 48.

None of these are small states. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and other red states received zero visits.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact responds to this problem. If passed, AB186 would not have bypassed the Electoral College; it is written to align with the same constitutional authority used by the states to allow political parties to select slates of electors.

The legislation states that when enough state legislatures join the interstate compact to equal 270 electoral votes, those state legislatures will allocate their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner.

Nevada will not always be a swing state, and once we become solidly blue or red, candidates may ignore us during the post-primary election cycle.

Some studies predict this could happen as soon as 2024, but many of those studies also predict that Nevada will remain a bellwether for diversity. And because we have relatively small markets, candidates looking to test messaging will get a bigger bang for their campaign dollar here rather than in larger states.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters has supported a move to a national popular vote since 1970, long before making votes equal became a partisan issue.

Oregon Officially Joins National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Oregon governor Kate Brown has signed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact into law, making Oregon the 16th jurisdiction to join the agreement that will guarantee that the winner of the popular vote will also win the electoral college.

The Constitution gives each state the power to award its electoral college votes as it sees fit.  Right now, all states give their electoral votes to the plurality winner of that state (except Nebraska and Maine).  However, under the Compact, each member state will give its votes to the winner of the national popular vote. 

The Compact will not go into effect until states with 270 total electoral votes join—the number needed to secure a majority of electoral college votes.  Accordingly, the states will not award their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote until there are enough electoral votes pledged to guarantee the winner of the national popular vote becomes president.

Right now, the Compact has 196 votes committed, including Oregon.  In order to reach 270, there will have to be a massive public education campaign to show voters that this issue is bigger than partisan politics.  The fact that almost every state gives its votes to the plurality winner has serious consequences, including:

The electoral college will sometimes favor Democrats and sometimes Republicans, but in the long run, everyone will be better off if Americans can choose their leader directly, and every person’s vote counts equally.