Popular Vote Support

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.



What to say

When you have a chance to talk to a presidential candidate, please run through these questions:

“Do you believe that the person who gets the most votes should become the president?”

He or she may say, "We need a constitutional amendment to fix the problem."

Then reply, “No, we don't. The states can decide on their own to name electors who vote for the national winner."

The candidate may answer, "Isn't that called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact?"

Reply this way: "Yes. And when you are president, will you do everything you can to make sure that by 2024 the candidates have to win the national vote to become the nation's chief executive?"



Oregon Passes National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Oregon’s House has voted to pass National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, joining the state’s Senate.  Chief Sponsor Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell explained that the Compact “is about giving all voters in the United States, regardless of where they live, the ability to be heard in the most important of our elections. Today, we make Oregon a battleground state.”

Oregon’s governor Kate Brown has stated she supports the proposal and she “has always believed that every vote matters.”

The Compact is a way to guarantee that the candidate who wins the national popular vote will also win the electoral college and become president.  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.

Fifteen jurisdictions—Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, Colorado, New Mexico, Delaware—have joined the Compact so far.

These states have 189 electoral votes between them—70% of the way to 270.  If Oregon adds its 7 electoral votes to the Compact, there will be 196 votes committed.



Despite Disappointments, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has had a Tremendous Year

In the last twelve months, four states—Connecticut, Delaware, Colorado, and New Mexico—have officially joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  The Compact now has 189 votes—70% of the way to the 270 needed to make the Compact effective.  

Once that happens, all of the states that joined the Compact will pledge their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, guaranteeing that the person who wins the most votes will win the election.  This means that candidates will have to seek the votes of all Americans everywhere, instead of just focusing their efforts on the small number of swing states.  No matter where you live, your vote will count in electing the president.

Yesterday, advocates of making all votes count were disappointed to see that Nevada governor Steve Sisolak vetoed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which had passed in both houses of Nevada’s legislature.  In addition, the Maine House voted against the Compact, which had passed in the Senate.

Despite these setbacks, grassroots activists and supporters of a national popular vote should be very proud of their hard work and all they have accomplished as the movement continues forward.



Future Elections will be Close. That Means that We’re Going to See More Popular Vote Winners Lose.

Some defenders of the way we chose our president insist that a “wrong winner” election—when the person who gets the most votes does not become the president—is a “rare divergence” that is unlikely to happen again (despite the fact that it has happened in two out of the last five elections).

But according to our statistical analysis, the winner of the national popular vote will lose the Electoral College 32-40% of the time in close elections.  And as Geoffrey Skelley at FiveThirtyEight has explained, the current trend of very close elections—within single-digits percentage points—is likely to continue.  The closer the election, the more likely a split between the national popular vote and the Electoral College.  In addition, in recent elections, there have been fewer swing states than in the past, and more states where the margin of victory was very large. The result: more and more elections where the winner of the national popular vote will lose the Electoral College.  

Nor does the current system give a long-term advantage to either party.  In modern elections, the Electoral College has appeared to be skewed against Democrats.  But, as Democrats and Republicans agree, this trend won’t last forever.  Swing states stop swinging, and safe states for one party shift to become safe states for the other.  The next “wrong winner” could just as easily be a Democrat who wins the Electoral College and loses the national popular vote.  In addition, as many, including Donald Trump, have rightly noted, no candidate has ever actually campaigned to win the national popular vote.  There is no telling which party would have an advantage if they did.

But one thing remains certain: so long as we stick with our current system, candidates will exclusively campaign in the current crop of swing states.  Most of America will be ignored, and their voices silenced. 



MEVC CEO Reed Hundt on the Path to the National Popular Vote

From the Washington Post:

Those involved in the effort [to enact the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact] doubt that the electoral college delegate procedures can be changed in enough states before the 2020 presidential election, Reed Hundt, chairman and co-founder of Making Every Vote Count, told The Washington Post.

Because Republican-controlled legislatures haven’t embraced the effort, it will be difficult to reach the 270 combined electoral votes needed to become president, he said. (They remain hopeful, though, that the compact will be in effect for the 2024 presidential election.)

To Hundt’s point, Tuesday’s vote in Nevada was along party lines, with all Republicans voting against the proposal, NPR reported.

“All the Democratic legislatures and governors will end up passing it by [next spring],” expects Hundt, who previously served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

“The people in those states by a two-thirds margin support the national vote winner always becoming president,” he added. “They’re happy to go along with the will of the people.”



Nevada Legislature Passes National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Nevada’s Senate has joined the state’s Assembly in passing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  If Governor Stephen Sisolak (D) signs the Compact, Nevada’s six electoral votes will be added to the 189 votes from fifteen jurisdictions that have already joined, bringing the total to 195 votes pledged.

If states with 270 electoral votes join the Compact, all member states will award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  That means that whoever wins the national popular vote is guaranteed to become the president.

Last week, Maine’s Senate voted 19-16 to join the Compact.  The Maine House of Representatives will likely vote on the bill this week.  In addition, the Compact is up for a committee vote in the Oregon House this week.  The Oregon Senate passed the Compact in April.  Oregon has seven electoral votes. 

If all three states join the Compact, the Compact will have 206 out of the 270 votes needed to go into effect—more than 75%.



The National Popular Vote Benefits People, Not Parties

In an opinion piece published in The Hill, Lara Brown urges Democrats to “stop worrying about the electoral college,” because over time, demographics are likely to shift and the current system may favor Democrats.  Likewise, Republican pollster Jim Hobart notes that the electoral college is “cyclical,” and that in a few years, Republicans may wish that we chose our president by national popular vote.

They are both right that under the current system, swing states become safe states, and safe states for one party can become safe states for the other, with relative frequency.  Therefore, Republicans are not likely to retain a long-term structural advantage from keeping the current system, nor are Democrats always going to be better off under a national popular vote.

But under the current system, even if the identity of the swing states that decide elections changes to the advantage of one party or the other, certain things will remain the same:

That is why so many people—of all political persuasions—have been working tirelessly to enact the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact since 2006, through Republican and Democratic electoral victories alike.  No one has the right to always have their candidate of choice elected president.  But if the president has to win the national popular vote, every person’s vote will count equally. 



Maine Senate Passes National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Maine’s Senate has voted 19-16 to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If the Maine House of Representatives also approves the bill, Maine will join the fourteen states plus the District of Columbia that have pledged to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote once states with 270 total electoral votes join the Compact, thus guaranteeing that the winner of the national popular vote will become the president.

Currently, the Compact has 189 electors pledged. With the addition of Maine’s four electoral votes, the Compact will have 193 votes.



Most of the 2020 Campaign Will Happen in Just Six Big States

Though defenders of the Electoral College often say that the institution is necessary to protect the interest of small states, in fact, the opposite is true.  A winning strategy for presidential candidates requires them to ignore small states and spend all their time and money on the few persuadable voters in large swing states.  

In 2016, 99% of campaign spending took place in only fourteen states, with half of that going to just four large states—Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  The rest of the United States was ignored.  And 2020 is shaping up to be even worse.  A pro-Trump Super PAC, America First Action, has stated that that just 13 states matter in the next election and plans to spend $250 million in just 6 large states—Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. 

 The result of the election may be dependent on an even smaller pool of voters: swing voters in Florida.

In Florida, for example, the starting Trumpworld assumption is that 10.5 million votes could be cast, which would represent record turnout in a fast-growing state. To be sure of a win, the president would need around 5.2 million to 5.3 million votes. At least 4.3 million Floridians, according to the campaign models, are already assured to come out for the president. The goal from there is straightforward: Find the 972,000-odd voters who would get the president to the win number.

The president isn’t wrong to commit to this strategy. The eventual Democratic candidate will certainly focus all of his or her energy, money, and time on these same few voters, taking the rest of the country for granted.  It is the system that forces candidates to spend all their time and money in large swing states.



Poll Shows Majority of Americans would Prefer a National Popular Vote

According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: “53 percent of Americans support a move to a popular vote, while 43 percent believe the country should continue to elect its presidents using the Electoral College.”

This poll shows that Americans favor the national popular vote by a landslide margin. But because it only asked about amending the Constitution, the poll actually understates support for the popular vote. Amending the Constitution is a radical move that would take years to accomplish, and the process has only rarely been successful.

Unfortunately, this poll did not ask about the much more conservative approach to requiring presidential candidates to seek the votes of all Americans, one that does not require a constitutional amendment: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under the Compact, states agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote once states with enough electoral votes to elect a president—270 votes—join the Compact. Right now, the Compact has 189 votes committed from fourteen states and the District of Columbia, with more states currently considering the bill.  The Compact is a constitutional exercise of the states’ authority to allocate their electoral votes as they see fit.  The Compact would not get rid of the Electoral College, but would make it work for all Americans instead of just those in swing states.

If the poll had asked about achieving a national popular vote without the need for a constitutional amendment, support would have been much higher.  Making Every Vote Count’s own polling shows that when asked the simple question “Do you think the person who wins the most votes nationwide should become the president?” 74% of all Americans say yes.



Our Election System Makes us Vulnerable to Foreign Hackers

 When we talk about the Electoral College and the national popular vote, we usually think about issues of fairness, democracy, history, and policy.  But there is another problem with the way that the Electoral College currently operates—with one candidate getting all the electoral votes from a state whether he or she wins that state by one vote or one million votes—that counsels strongly in favor of reform: election security.

As national popular vote activist Bunnie Keen writes, our current system makes it much too easy for a malevolent foreign power to hack an election:

The Mueller report documents that, in 2016, at least one county computer system in Florida was successfully hacked by Russian operatives. The vote margin for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was just over 100,000 votes in that state. That was approximately .07% of the total votes cast nationwide (136 million) in our last presidential election.

It’s not known at this time which Florida county suffered the intrusion, but if the results were sufficient to flip the state’s total electoral votes from one candidate to the other, does it matter at this point?

The critically urgent question that must be addressed before 2020 is: Who do we want to have the greatest influence on our next presidential election: the American people, or a foreign government?

When elections can turn on just a few hundred votes in one state, as it did in 2000 and easily could again, even a small or relatively contained hack could make a universe of difference.  If all votes counted equally, the system would be much more difficult if not impossible to hack.