Political cases – no one should be shocked – do go to the Supreme Court from time to time. In these cases, the facts matter as much or more than theory. I’ve been a litigation attorney for decades, I’ve often been a client in litigation, and I’ve sometimes been a judge. So my view comes from experience. That can be inferior to theory. But not always.
Bush v. Gore certainly was a political case. Perhaps it was the most political case ever decided by the Supreme Court.
Suppose its facts had been different. Imagine that George Bush had won the popular vote by a half million but had lost the electoral vote based on the first vote count in Florida. Suppose further that his brother the governor of Florida and the Republican legislature of Florida had aggressively pursued a recount in a couple of key counties. Would the Supreme Court have ended the recount?
Or imagine that Al Gore had won the popular vote by three million as did Hillary Clinton. And imagine further that the electoral result turned on 500 votes in each of Florida, New Hampshire and Tennessee. Would the Supreme Court have stopped the recounts in all three states?
I think the case would have come out differently with different facts.
If you agree with this assertion – if you think it might be true – then you would also agree that the various legal challenges to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would be less likely to succeed if the following facts were clear:
Not just 270 electors were bound to the Compact, but instead more than 300 were committed
The big majority of electors bound to the Compact reflected the enactment of this law in swing and red states
A big majority of Americans told pollsters that they understood and approved of the Compact
Some leading Republican elected official supported the Compact
In some swing and/or red states the voters chose the Compact as a measure on the ballot
What is the essential, core, most important problem with the Electoral College system?
Here are some answers that I do not think are accurate:
The votes in every state are not counted equally in choosing the national leader
The votes in low population states have greater weight in choosing electors and this is unfair to voters in high population states
The candidates only visit swing states
These are true statements. But the core problem is that the system does not oblige the parties to compete for every vote in every state; instead, they can take the outcome for granted in at least 40 if not more states. More than 80% of voters and citizens live in the land of the ignored.
In the 40 or so taken-for-granted states the parties do not work as hard as they could to register voters, get out the vote, promote access to polling places, lobby for voting by mail, fight for ex-felons to vote, or take any of the other steps that would promote participation in the election. Citizens see that the system does not seek their votes and that their votes do not matter. So millions of people do not participate in the general election. The total number of non-participants ranges between 15 and 70 million.
Voting is an important act in the creation of a common culture, a widespread sharing of beliefs and values. A system that does not seek to involve tens of millions of citizens is inclined to derogate the importance of those people and to breed in them a sense of resentment toward the rest of society.
Furthermore, an executive whose victory depends on a bare plurality of a handful of states – the current situation – has much less incentive to govern in response to the wishes of the majority of citizens. Not only in a democracy, but in any form of government, both fairness and utilitarianism dictate that government should aspire to serve the interests of most citizens. A method of choosing the president that requires the aspirants to appeal to most people is much more likely to produce solutions to collective problems – like how to address climate change or pay for public goods like education and transportation or provide health care insurance.
So non-participation and non-responsive government are the two aspects of the core problem with the Electoral College system.
Suppose that there were many more than a handful of swing states. Let us imagine that the top 10 states in population, with more than 50% of citizens in aggregate, were all swing states. Then the parties would have to seek every vote in these populous states. It would still be true that small population state voters picked more electors per resident than would be the case in the populous states. But if participation went up 10 to 30 million, concern about inequality of voting power between small population states and big population states would not be so terribly important.
The problem with the system in this century is that now and in the future states with most people are not contested.
From the Harvard Gazette:
Reed Hundt, chairman and CEO of Making Every Vote Count, said the current system “has excluded most Americans from full participation in the choice of a president. It has skewed the parties’ policies and popular bases in ways that have exacerbated social divisions [and is] racist and sexist in its effects.”
The compact “would force the parties to compete everywhere for every vote,” added Hundt, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Remarks delivered orally at Harvard Law School, October 19, 2019
The Electoral College system – I mean not only the words in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution that say state constitutions and laws determine the selection of electors, but the web of state laws and political party practices that define how the United States picks presidents – contributes mightily to the worst ills of the American democracy.
This system causes the two major parties pay little to no attention to more than 80% of the voters, located in 40 or more states, during the general election for president.
The system creates irresistible incentives for the two major parties to divide the nation regionally and demographically by appealing to race, gender, and ethnicity as the markers of party affiliation.
The system does nothing to force the two parties and their leaders to compromise on solutions to collective problems that a huge majority of people want and desperately need.
The system opens the door for dangerously unqualified people to become president without winning a majority or plurality of support from citizens.
A huge majority of Americans prefer a system in which the presidential candidates in the general election seek everyone’s vote and the one who gets the most always becomes president – but a small number of elected officials in a small number of states block that desire from being reflected in changes in state law.
The system was conceived in the sin of slavery and has always thwarted progress toward democracy. In our time its particular evils put the survival of the Republic at risk by leading an increasing number of Americans to give up on our system of government while tolerating authoritarianism to a degree unprecedented in our history.
And despite the well-examined complexities to altering anything in the Constitution, there are numerous practical ways to improve this system.
The starting point is to define the essence of the problem.
The bad, radical attribute of the existing presidential election system is not that it allocates electors in a way that is not proportional to the population. The principle of equality across all voters in all states entrances many theorists who would like one person-one vote on a national level to become the defining characteristic of selecting the national executive. This concern elevates the ideal over the practical. Unquestionably, the current system gives a voter in thinly populated Wyoming more influence in choosing the president than a voter in big-as-a-country California or previously-a-country Texas. But really so what? This factor does not cause anyone involved in the general presidential election or in any White House to pay unusual, or probably any, attention to voters in Wyoming in comparison to voters in other states. It is not the reason that Republicans give short shrift to California and Democrats for their part write off Texas in the general election.
The problem instead is the winner-take-all method that exists in all states except Nebraska and Maine. The other 48 states and the District of Columbia award all electors to the plurality winner. Because the outcome is predictable in more than 40 states, this system causes the two major parties to take for granted and ignore in the general election the voters in states with more than 80% of the population. Instead, states that randomly happen to be closely divided by party preference decide the outcome.
Napoleon said that if you want to understand people, you must see the world the way they saw it when they were 20 years old. I was 20 in 1968, and in that year Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey (George Wallace finished third) by about a half-million votes in the irrelevant national contest, but smashed him the electoral count by 301 against 191.
The election felt like a national contest. The two major party candidates competed closely in states as far flung as Alaska and Delaware, California and New Jersey. True, a majority of voters were taken more or less for granted, but the number of electors in states that were close-run affairs totaled 223, 41% of the total. Here’s the list:
States where margin of victory was less than 5 percentage points (223 electoral votes):
New Jersey, 2.13%
Illinois, 2.92% (tipping point state)
In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by about three million votes in the purposeless national count, but lost the electoral count by 304 to 227. But this election never felt national. Even while the saturating media reached everyone with seemingly minute-by-minute news, the general election resembled a report on Big Ten football contests.
The two campaigns fought to margins of less than 5% in about the same number of states as in 1968, 11 plus the Omaha district, but these had only 133 electors, 90 less than in 1968. Instead of composing more than 40% of electors, the swing states were just less than 25%. Moreover, 56 of these 133 were in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. These Midwestern states, with their older, whiter, and more evangelical Christian populations than the rest of the country, were the decisive battlegrounds.
States where the margin of victory was under 1% (50 electoral votes; 46 won by Trump, 4 by Clinton):
Michigan, 0.23% – 16
New Hampshire, 0.37% – 4
Pennsylvania, 0.72% – 20 (tipping point state, including 2 faithless GOP electors)
Wisconsin, 0.77% – 10 (tipping point state, excluding the 2 faithless GOP electors)
States/districts where the margin of victory was between 1% and 5% (83 electoral votes; 56 won by Trump, 27 by Clinton):
Florida, 1.20% – 29
Minnesota, 1.52% – 10
Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, 2.24% – 1
Nevada, 2.42% – 6
Maine, 2.96% – 2
Arizona, 3.55% – 11
North Carolina, 3.66% – 15
Colorado, 4.91% – 9
Indeed, this chart exaggerates the number of states that were seriously in play during the two months of the campaign. A more practically accurate count would be only six, the ones where the result was a margin under two percent: States with a population of less than 60 million, less than 18% of the national total.
In 1958 Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called “Franchise,” in which Norman Muller of Bloomington, Indiana is determined to be ideally representative of the entire populace. As “Citizen of the Year” he answers questions put to him by a computer that in turn selects the chief executive that the data suggested likely best to serve the nation. Asimov set this story fifty years into the future, 2008. What we have now is not as good a system, because the battleground state populaces are not a representative sample. Here is a polling project that tracks swing voter attitudes – unnecessary if the national vote dictated the outcome of the election.(In addition, according to current polling, most Americans do not believe the current chief executive is the best person to hold the presidency.)
Asimov wrote the story to warn of the danger that computerization would supplant democracy as the American way of choosing leaders. Instead, demography has created a situation where computerization enables both parties to exclude most Americans from meaningful participation in democracy.
What has happened in the half-century between 1968 and now is that Americans have steadily moved to concentrate in a small number of states. In part because people have chosen to live where they find like-minded citizens, most of the heavily populated states are politically dominated by a single party.
Here is a list of the top ten most populated states in the country:
California (Population: 39,747,267)
Texas (Population: 29,087,070)
Florida (Population: 21,646,155)
Pennsylvania (Population: 12,813,969)
Illinois (Population: 12,700,381)
Ohio (Population: 11,718,568)
Georgia (Population: 10,627,767)
North Carolina (Population: 10,497,741)
Michigan (Population: 10,020,472)
In the meantime, the low-growth states are also typically dominated by a single party. One reason is that they each have small numbers of electors, and the runner-up party has a very low probability of prevailing in a winner-take-all contest for electors. The game is not worth the candle for the Republican Party in Vermont or the Democratic Party in Oklahoma in the general election. So each lets the other win without making much effort to achieve balance.
The combination of urbanization-suburbanization in a few states and party dominance in most inevitably is the reduction in the number of swing state electors. It’s important to note the number of swing states has oscillated around a dozen over the last fifty years, but the number of electors (and hence population) in these states has fallen significantly. Therefore the composition of the battlegrounds in reality and appearance does not give us an election that involves enough voters.
Admittedly, the winner-take-all system has always caused the major political parties to ignore huge swathes of voters. However, in the case of big wins, like Barack Obama in 2008, or true landslides like Reagan in 1984 the fact that the parties pay no attention to most voters is not noticed. But in any reasonably close election, the left-out problem is inescapably obvious. Moreover, the problem is much worse in current times.
In 2020 Donald Trump will probably lose the national popular vote as he did in 2016. Current polls suggest he will run behind the Democratic nominee by five to eight million in the pointless national tally. But he has a good chance of winning in the Electoral College by choosing the hop skip and jump strategy that gave him the 2016 victory.
His strategy will be to count on, and take for granted, the typically reliable Republican base of 230 electors, hop to a Florida win of 29 electors, skip to a Wisconsin victory for 10, and jump to prevail in Omaha for a single elector that produces the necessary 270.
The president presumably targeted Joe Biden for defeat in the Democratic primaries because he thinks Biden would win Wisconsin whereas he believes he can defeat Elizabeth Warren or another nominee in Wisconsin. This explains the Ukraine story.
Demographics is destiny. Americans are not about to flee urban and suburban precincts and head to the emptying states. The Internet produced the death of distance but social networks, business opportunity and industry concentration have greatly enhanced the magnetism of a small number of geographic locations. As this next map shows, the economically big states are like big countries, and the rest are of comparatively negligible size. Wyoming’s economy is on par with Tunisia, and neither is about to get big.
Whether the topic is democracy in the United States or a world order, attention must be paid to forgotten people. The current electoral system, like international governance, does not solve that problem. On a comparative basis, most states are small in population and economic opportunity, and the election system causes not only these small states but also most of the big states to be ignored in the most important election – not just most important for the United States but also most important for the global future of democracy.
There are no benefits to this system, save for the fact that a handful of elected officials in swing states may enjoy outsized attention from both campaigns every four years. The odds of a swing state governor being selected for the vice presidency or getting a cabinet post promise are higher than for similarly situated people in non-battleground states. This is hardly a justification for keeping the system unchanged.
There are at least three distinct deleterious consequences to the presidential selection system’s focus on a diminishing fraction of voters in a few states.
First, the policy preferences of the vast majority of Americans are rejected by Republicans and not adequately pursued by Democrats. These include but are not limited to the desire of most people to see the government lead a victorious battle against climate change, against widening income and wealth inequality, against unaffordable and inadequate health care and against xenophobia and racism. Instead of responding to the wishes of most people, the campaigns and candidates address the desires (and inflame the division) of those in swing states. When the population of closely contested states is less than a quarter of the whole, it is no surprise that the fourth are not representative of the entirety. Moreover, all politics truly is local, as House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said. Perforce, the swing-state voters care more about their local issues than national issues.
Second, by taking for granted the outcome in 40 or more states, the two parties do not compete vigorously to drive turnout in those states. As a result participation in democracy in the United States is lower than in most democracies. If the parties competed for every vote everywhere turnout would go up by 10% to 30%, or between 15 to 45 million. The additional voters would more accurately reflect the demographics of the population. Te electorate would be less white and younger. It’s likely that the newer voters would have more faith in our democracy if they participated and their votes mattered to the outcome.
Third, the system creates a huge incentive for the Republican Party to present itself as the party of whites and males, and further as the champion of evangelical white Protestants. That is because by mirroring these constituencies the Republicans are appealing to large constituencies in the swing states of the Great Lakes. (Between 20% and 30% of the likely voters in those states are evangelical Protestant whites, and exit polls in 2016 suggested 80% of white evangelicals voted for the Republican nominee.) The system also appears to reward the Democrats for cultivating a base more heavily weighted toward women and minorities than the total population, and arguably that lures Democrats into ignoring the economic and social concerns of whites in swing states.
The system, in short, has excluded most Americans from full participation in the choice of the president. It has skewed the parties’ policies and popular bases in ways that have exacerbated the social divisions that elections always seek to exploit but governance discovers are obstacles to useful collective action. And the system is racist and sexist in its effects.
If you agree with me so far, you will agree that the goal of reform is to force the two parties to compete nationally to win a national vote count.
A Constitutional Amendment is obviously difficult because of the supermajority requirements in both Congress and among states in the ratification process. But to pass a useful Amendment it is not necessary that it weight every popular vote equally. It could dictate that every state allocate electors proportionally to the first decimal point, and only the top two parties get electors. Harvard’s Larry Lessig has proposed exactly this meritorious idea. It should be introduced in Congress forthwith. The goal is to get a negotiation going that would attract votes from small state representatives and senators. That system would cause the parties to compete everywhere for the extra tenths of electors, preserve the inequitable weighting of electoral votes for low population states, and still produce 270 or more electors in almost all circumstances.
The way to guarantee that the top two parties get electors might be ranked choice voting. The two existing parties might well agree on this measure if for no other than self-preservation.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact of course is a reform that obviously would force the parties to compete everywhere for every vote. They would raise more money, and spend along a rising marginal cost curve weighted by likelihood of persuasion until the predictable total reached a clear majority. They would ignore geographic location. (Probably this would be a big boom to local radio, broadcast TV and newspapers in small towns, by the way.)
But the Compact’s problem goes into effect only when it bonds states with 270 electors. It is unlikely to do so unless a few swing or red states switch from winner-take-all to the Compact.
In all states, between two thirds and three quarters of the electorate tell pollsters that they think the national vote winner should always be president. Professional politicians in swing states, however, tend to like the attention that comes their way from the two parties and their deep pocketed donors every four years. So Democrats and Republicans in elected office in swing states can be inclined to disregard the will of their voters and to oppose the Compact.
In swing and red states, Republicans often hold at least one chamber in the legislature or the governorship and these professional politicians correctly understand that their party’s largely white male base is not sufficient to win a national vote. Their party would have to change to win nationally. Change threatens re-election of incumbents. So they are reluctant to pass the Compact.
There are two ways to overcome these problems. First, put the Compact on the ballot. This is possible in 26 states. Ideal targets include at least Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona, Utah, and Montana. If the Compact were on the ballot in Ohio in the general election held on November 5, 2019 it would probably pass. The same is true if the Compact were on the ballot in Michigan in November 2020.
The reason this has not happened yet is lack of money for these ballot contests. The cost for getting on the ballot in all five states is about $15 million, and the cost for waging an effective campaign for winning would be about another $50 million in total. The aggregate of $65 million is about two percent of the total that will be spent on the 2020 election.
This number, $65 million, is also less than the amount raised by the Bernie Sanders campaign for president in 2019.
The Compact is much more likely to win a ballot vote in any state than Senator Sanders is to win the nomination of a party to which he does not belong.
The other way the Compact can be passed is to wait for a Democratic landslide to sweep Democratic majorities into control of a surprising number of state legislatures and governorships. Then, push the Compact through before the pendulum heads in the other direction. This is the low cost strategy.
(Also the Republican Party, like the Whigs in the ante-bellum era, might face extinction, and then to change its positions and base. In the past Republicans have supported a national vote method. This is a possible corollary of the Democratic landslide scenario.)
Either way the Compact goes into effect by bonding states with 270 electors, it will face legal challenges funded by those who think that a national vote would lead to the election of presidents who did not serve their special interests. I believe the fate of such challenges depends as much or more on the facts presented as it does on the ingenuity of the legal arguments or the discoveries of legal historians about the intent of the Framers.
If the Compact has barely obtained the 270 electors and lacks the direct mandate of any voters, then the Republican-tilted federal judiciary will feel empowered to side with their party and find a way to invalidate the Compact. But if the reform garners a big majority of electors and also shows voting strength by winning in a ballot contest in a few states, then I think the judiciary will be much more likely to accept the result.
I also believe that if one election were held in which the parties competed for the national vote and the people all over the country reveled in their new found participation, I think the Supreme Court would be loath to end the new system.
There are at least two ways that the parties could be forced to compete for a national victory without enactment of the Compact.
The first is called pairing. If a state sure to vote Democratic and a state sure to vote Republican each appointed electors who promised to vote for the national winner, then depending on the likely outcome of the election and the number of electors affected by this move, the parties might decide to compete for the national victory.
For example, if New York made this move contingent on Texas taking the same step, the resulting combination of 67 electors promising to vote for the national winner is big enough to cause both parties to seek a national victory.
As another example, with the hop, skip and jump strategy I outlined earlier the incumbent president is not likely to win more than a bare majority of electors. As it happens, in both North Dakota and the District of Columbia approximately 15,000 signatures suffice to put on the ballot next year a measure that enacts this contingent pairing. It’s not a compact. If both passed, they would be effective for November 2020.
If the incumbent president could not get the three electors of North Dakota merely by winning the plurality in that state, then he would have no clear path to electoral victory. He and his party would have to give serious consideration to pursuing a national vote victory, and of course the Democratic nominee would do the same.
A second move would be for a single reliable Republican state to appoint electors who promised to vote for the national candidate. Based on the statistical work of my nonprofit, every reliable Republican elector bound to vote for the national winner instead of the state winner reduces the probability of an electoral win for the Republican nominee by two percent unless that Republican wins the national vote. For example, if Ohio’s 18 electors were to vote for the national vote winner instead of the Ohio winner, then the probability of Donald Trump winning the Electoral College would drop by 36% percentage points. If you think it’s fifty-fifty now, that probability would fall to 14%.
But finally, the most important way to boost the chances of the Compact or any national vote reform in any battle through the judiciary is to make it very well known that the Electoral College winner take all system now and all too often in American history has been an instrument of political supremacy for whites and against blacks, Hispanics, and immigrants.
And it also must be understood generally that this same system has produced an overzealous reliance on identity politics as opposed to advocating policies good for the large, troubled middle class.
A widespread understanding of the pernicious effects of the current system for both parties, I believe, will cause the judiciary not to overturn any reforms that move the country to using the national vote for choosing the president.
I believe in the better angels of Americans. Reform of the election process would let that belief triumph over the dark vision of humanity that the current times daily seem to make real and the electoral system sadly encourages.
In case you missed it, here is the keynote address from Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea from the Making Every Vote Count conference last week.
Here are her remarks, as prepared:
Thank you, James Glassman, Steve Clemons, Bob Cusack, Matt Shapanka and the rest of the Making Every Vote Count team for helping us have a very important series of conversations on a key evolutionary moment for American democracy.
This may seem quaint, but I believe that government should be accountable to the people it serves, and all voters should feel like their voices are heard.
I was elected as Rhode Island’s Secretary of State in 2014. I ran for office because I wanted to make government work for everyone.
As a Latina, as a Puerto Rican, as a woman, I am personally aware that U.S. democracy, while a wonderful contribution to our world, is definitely a work in progress. And, sadly, despite the work done over the past two centuries - that feeling that government can work for everyone is missing in many parts of our country right now.
Except for in a handful of battleground states, most people think their vote doesn’t matter in the presidential race. That’s why we’re seeing a groundswell of support for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Polls show more than two-thirds of Americans want the president to be elected by popular vote. That desire has sparked several efforts over the years, from Dr. John Koza and the National Popular Vote Group, to Common Cause, and of course, Making Every Vote Count.
While these groups may have different versions of how a popular vote system would work, I think we can all agree on why this reform needed.
For me, one of the most striking arguments for the popular vote comes from our young people. I’ve made engaging young voters one of my key missions as Secretary of State. And we’ve had real success in Rhode Island in getting more young people to vote.
In the 2018 election, Rhode Island saw a 64% increase in 18-to-20-year-old voters. One way we’ve been able to engage young people in voting has been through high school class elections. This is where Rhode Island’s small size is a real asset. I literally get to travel to every corner of the state.
In those travels, I’ve visited dozens of high schools where the Department of State helps students run elections for their class leaders. It’s terrific. We bring in real voting machines and real ballots, just like election day. The kids really get into it too. They give speeches and debate issues with their classmates. You can tell there is a certain joy in seeing their name or their friends’ names on the ballot. They know their vote will really matter. Someone they know will experience the joy of winning and others will feel the sadness of defeat.
My goal with this program is to have every Rhode Island high schooler personally experience voting before they graduate. That way, they’re familiar with the entire process when it comes time to vote for real. We’re helping set them on a path to civic engagement in adulthood.
But I must tell you, almost every time I talk with these kids, I get a question on the electoral college. They want me to explain how can it be that after so much encouragement to vote, when it comes to President of the United States, their vote “doesn’t matter.”
Plain and simple, the Electoral College makes it so much harder to help people feel that voting and civic engagement are critical to democracy. And unfortunately, a lot of those kids’ parents feel like their votes don’t matter either. In a deep blue, small state like Rhode Island, people feel ignored by presidential candidates.
That’s why Rhode Island passed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in 2013.
And support for the Compact is growing. There are a lot of people in other states that feel the same way. When Rhode Island joined, the Compact accounted for 132 electoral votes. Now it’s up to 196, with another 90 pending.
So, it’s approaching the 270 electoral votes needed to take effect. That means we’re at an important point right now where we need to do a couple of things:
One: we need to get across the finish line and make the popular vote a reality.
And two: we need to figure out how we’re going to count the votes when that happens.
Today I’ll talk about ways we can break down barriers to getting the Compact passed. And perhaps most importantly, I’ll look at some of conversations we need to have next, to make sure we’re prepared.
I think one of the most important messages when it comes to getting the Compact passed is this - the popular vote is not about partisan politics! This is not about the 2016 election. Support for the Compact goes back way further than 2016.
The Washington Post did a poll on the popular vote in 2007 and found support among ALL voters:
78% of Democrats were in favor;
As were 60% of Republicans;
And 73% of independents.
There’s even Gallup polling going back to the 1940’s that shows the majority of the public supporting a popular vote.
So, what’s the hold up? Well, for one thing, change is scary. And when it comes to changing how we elect the president, well, that’s really scary for some people.
Here’s something to keep in mind the next time you talk to someone who feels that way – our democracy was designed to change with the times. Just look at the Constitution. It was meant to be a living document. There’s a reason we’ve amended it 27 times and counting. It was designed to evolve as our country grew and changed.
Now, I know critics of the Compact will point out that it’s not a Constitutional amendment. But the “winner-take-all” way we allocate electors isn’t in the Constitution at all. It was adopted later, by 48 states.
And states are free to do that, of course. They can also enter into other arrangements – like the Compact. Why? Because the Constitution gives states the freedom to change and evolve with the times.
And by the way, we’ve even changed how federal officials get into office before. Until 1913, U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures, not the people. The 17th Amendment changed that.
So, remind people that our democracy is always evolving. That’s the great thing about it! Those changes have led us to a time of universal suffrage where everyone’s voices are supposed to be heard equally. We have moved from, “All men are created equal,” to “all citizens are created equal.”
Unfortunately, that equality is not reflected under our current system using an Electoral College. A national popular vote is the next logical step in the evolution of American democracy.
That brings us to the question at the heart of this conference – what would be different if America used the popular vote to elect our president, and how would we count the votes?
We may not have all the answers yet, and I know there are different proposals on how the mechanics would work.
I’m not here to criticize or endorse any of those approaches. In fact, I’m here to encourage some of those lively debates and hopefully pull more people into the conversation.
Throughout my life, I’ve found that getting people from different viewpoints and backgrounds to the table is how we get our best policy decisions. As a Secretary of State, I’m right at the crossroads of the national popular vote conversation. I’m called on to support elections that count votes in a fair and impartial way.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact raises some important questions about the duties of my office. Right now, under Rhode Island law, I collect vote totals from all of our cities and towns and add them up. Then I certify the votes for presidential candidates and certify the electors from the winner’s party. I send that information to the Archivist of the United States in Washington, D.C., under federal law.
If the Compact becomes effective, I’ll still be responsible for certifying the votes in my state, of course. But each Secretary of State will also have to include the national count of all votes. That means I’ll have to send Rhode Island’s results to all the other member states, and they’ll have to do the same.
That sounds simple. But what about non-member states?
If they’re not bound by the Compact and don’t share their results with member states, how do we make the process work? It’s been proposed that we create a centralized place where non-members would deliver their votes in a timely manner.
That means after I send my vote tally to the Archivist of the United States, I could then look at what every other Secretary of State has sent. I would add up all the votes for presidential nominees in every state. The one with the biggest number would be the national vote winner.
I would then name as electors the slate from Rhode Island that’s from the party whose nominee won the national vote, even if that person didn’t win the plurality in Rhode Island. Under the Compact, I’m required to “treat as conclusive an official statement containing the number of popular votes in a state for each presidential slate made by the day established by federal law for making a state’s final determination conclusive.”
This means that if a non-Compact state makes an “official statement” of its popular vote total, I’m required to accept that total as correct. I then have to count it when determining the national popular vote.
But the Compact is not binding on non-member states. So, to make this process work without an approved federal mandate, we’re going to need a two-step process. Every Secretary of State will have to provide every other Secretary of State their “official statement” of vote totals in time to look at all the votes and add them up before we appoint the electors.
The second problem is what to do about ranked choice voting. In other words, what about Maine? How would I determine what counts as a “vote” for president in Maine, where voters rank their preferences for president in order?
Maybe Maine should decide. That’s what the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact requires when it says that I as Secretary must “treat as conclusive an official statement containing the number of popular votes in a state.”
These were some of the issues that came up at the annual meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in New Mexico this past summer. They’re conversations I’m going to keep bringing up, because we need to be ready if and when the Compact becomes effective. That’s also why event like this are so important – to draw more voices from more backgrounds into that decision-making process.
In Rhode Island, we have a long history of thinking carefully about important issues. We were the first colony to declare independence and the last of the 13 states ratify the Constitution.
We thought carefully about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. We think it’s best for all Americans, even if it means a popular Republican winning the national vote could win the electors from a deep blue state like Rhode Island by virtue of the Compact.
The bottom line is that Rhode Islanders feel ignored under our current system. And many other states feel the same. If all votes counted equally in a presidential race – no matter where people live – candidates would campaign for every vote, everywhere. They would advertise in local media and open “Get Out the Vote” offices everywhere. That would all be a welcome change from the current system where almost all money to promote voting goes to just a few states.
Having more Americans feel like their vote matters would a big win for democracy, no matter who they vote for. Voting is woven into the fabric of our country.
I’m proud that Rhode Island has adopted the Compact, and I encourage other states to do the same. It’s clear that Americans want their voices heard with a national popular vote. Now let’s figure out how to make it happen.
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.
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.”
Republican strategist Mark Mackowiak uses facts to refute some of the most common myths about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, including that it would give advantages to cities over rural areas.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
Reed E. Hundt, Chairman & CEO
Fred T. Goldberg, Jr.
Judge Lisa Foster (Ret.)
James K. Glassman
Richard S. Tedlow
Jennifer A. Holmes
cc:Attorneys General of the 50 States and the District of Columbia
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Everything about this article is pretty smart except the conclusion. If the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact reform were adopted in only five or six more states then the president would have to win the national vote and no president with that motivation would pick closet aristocrats to be on the Supreme Court.