The Group Lobbying the States for a Presidential Popular Vote
The National Popular Vote has long made the case that there’s no reason that states have to stick with the electoral college—and has legislative success stories to show for it.
We’re closer than ever to a popular vote in the United States—and a nonprofit might be the reason for the shift.
Since 2006, the National Popular Vote, a group that is looking to move the U.S. to a system that gets away from the electoral college in national elections, has been putting in the work to support a nationwide popular election of the president. Once states representing more than half of all electoral votes sign on to the compact, state-level laws would require that states automatically hand their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote—effectively nullifying the electoral college without the need for a congressional amendment.
The idea would be to minimize the impact of “swing states” and prevent situations where the winner of the popular vote was not elected due to not having enough electoral college votes—which has happened a number of times in recent years, including during the 2016 election.
And the U.S. is actually a lot closer than you might think to switching to that system: According to UPI, 15 states and the District of Columbia, representing 196 electoral votes, have signed on to the compact, meaning just 74 electoral votes are needed to change the system—a number that’s close enough that, depending on what happens in the next year, it could affect the 2020 election.
Some states, such as Oregon, just signed their measures into law; others, such as Maine, are making progress in that direction.
And if a single large state signed on to the measure, it could change the entire conversation about presidential elections.
So why is this even possible? According to John Koza, the director of National Popular Vote, there’s nothing in the Constitution requiring the existence of the electoral college, meaning that legislation could change it.
“The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the Constitution, it was never debated by the constitutional convention, it wasn’t in the Federalist Papers, the founders never endorsed it and it didn’t become prevalent in many cases until the Founding Fathers’ children were dead,” Koza told UPI. “The fact is it’s just state law and it’s changeable by state law.”
While legislation has been introduced in every state, roughly a fifth of states haven’t given the bill a hearing, including population-heavy states such as Florida and Texas, and occasional battleground states like Indiana and Virginia. However, a number of other states have passed the measure at least partly in the past, and if those states can succeed in getting both chambers to pass it, it could push the electoral vote count over 270.
That said, the debate over the popular vote isn’t happening cleanly along party lines. While many of the states that have passed the measure are traditionally states that vote Democratic in elections, one of the points in favor of the shift is that it would give Republican voters from those states more of a say in the national vote.
And Nevada’s handling of the legislation points at a political debate more complex than it appears. The measure passed both legislative chambers, only for Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to veto it last month, arguing that it would limit the state’s influence in national elections.
For Koza’s part, he says that changing the policy could help shift the government’s priorities, and not necessarily because of the politics of one side versus the other.
“Everybody’s vote should count,” he told The New York Times last month. “But entire campaigns run around a couple of states and that, in turn, distorts government policy.”
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