The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A national popular vote just got one step closer to reality

Lawmakers in Connecticut have approved legislation that would add the state to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, bringing electoral reformers closer to their goal of sidestepping the Electoral College to elect presidents by a nationwide popular vote.

Under the compact, states pledge to allocate all their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote in presidential elections. It would not go into effect until it's adopted by states representing at least 270 electoral votes, a majority.

Connecticut's seven electoral votes join the 165 electoral votes of 10 other states plus the District of Columbia, putting the compact fewer than 100 electoral votes away from becoming reality. The last state to join the compact was New York, in 2014.

So far only blue states typically won by Democrats have joined the compact — California, New York and Illinois being the largest among them. But the compact's organizers point out that legislative chambers in a number of red and purple states have also approved legislation adding those states.

Under the Constitution, states are given wide leeway in allocating their electoral college votes. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact simply requires states to allocate their votes according to the nationwide, rather than the statewide, popular vote. It allows for what amounts to a nationwide popular vote without eliminating the electoral college. It's a way of having one's electoral cake and eating it, too.

The issue has gained new urgency in recent years. In two out of the past five presidential elections, candidates have won the electoral college but lost the popular vote. Reformers have pointed out the fundamental capriciousness of the state-level winner-take-all electoral system -- in 2016, for instance, a tiny number of changes to state borders would have resulted in a completely different electoral outcome. A 2016 NPR analysis found that it's possible to win the electoral college with just 23 percent of the popular vote.

Legislators in swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Virginia have expressed little interest in joining the compact, for the obvious reason that those states receive a hugely disproportionate share of political attention, including events and advertising dollars, in presidential election years. Some Republicans are likewise skeptical, given that the beneficiaries of the two most recent popular-electoral vote splits have been Republican candidates, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

But polls show that most Americans would prefer to elect their presidents directly through a nationwide popular vote. And that proposal has at least one major Republican backer, at least in theory: President Trump, who recently told “Fox & Friends” that “I would rather have the popular vote because it's, to me, it's much easier to win the popular vote.”