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Question of the Month ~ January 2012

 

Q. What is the National Popular Vote compact, and how many states have adopted it?

The goal of the proposed National Popular Vote (NPV) compact is to guarantee that the U.S. presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes wins the presidency.
Under the current system, the president is chosen via state-by-state elections: The candidate who wins a state’s popular vote receives all of that state’s Electoral College votes. (The two exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, where electoral votes are awarded by congressional district.)
This system makes it possible for the loser of the national popular vote to win the presidency due to a maldistribution of votes because:
• The Electoral College is not evenly apportioned among the states (it favors less-populated states), and
• There are millions of “wasted votes” — any vote cast for a candidate above and beyond what he or she needs to win in a particular state has no bearing on who wins the race for president.
The NPV plan would retain the Electoral College but reforms the process. The signatory states agree to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate designated by their respective chief election officers as having the largest number of popular votes nationally.
To date, the compact has been passed in eight states, including Illinois in the Midwest, and the District of Columbia. States with a total of 132 electoral votes have agreed to join the compact, which would take effect if states with a majority of the Electoral College votes (270 of 538) adopt it.
The compact began making its way to state legislatures in the aftermath of two extremely close presidential elections. In 2000, George W. Bush won the presidency even though Al Gore received more popular votes. In 2004, if John Kerry had received 60,000 more votes in Ohio, he would have won in the Electoral College, despite Bush having received more than 3 million more popular votes nationwide.
Prior to 2000, there were at least two other presidential races in which the candidate with the most popular votes lost the election: 1876 and 1888. In addition, there were five other presidential races in which a change in a small number of votes in one or two states would have led to victory by a candidate who did not win the popular vote.
One likely result of the NPV would be less focus on “battleground states,” the states with closely divided electorates whose races often decide the presidential winner.
There is much opposition to the compact, so it would be certain to face constitutional challenges. The Cato Institute believes that the NPV weakens federalism by eliminating the states’ role in presidential elections. The Heritage Foundation states that the NPV effectively eliminates the Electoral College without going through the process of formally amending the U.S. Constitution to do so.
A document prepared for the League of Women Voters, which supports the NPV, points out that the compact needs as few as 11 states to take effect. This could shift political power to the states that have entered into the compact and dramatically impact the way presidential candidates campaign.

 

Question of the Month response written by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest assistant director.