The Electoral College rules that govern our presidential elections are the political equivalent of education’s standardized test. Just as high school classes devolve into test preparation, not learning, presidential elections descend into swing-state appeal, not national leadership. Campaigns don’t lift a finger in some 30 or 40 states locked up for one party. As the 2016 campaign comes into focus, it’s a welcome reminder that it may well be the last one in which every vote in every state is not equally important.
In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that brings New York into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under the National Popular Vote plan, states work together to guarantee election of the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Once enough states to represent a majority of electoral votes (270 out of 538) have entered the compact, a participating state will award all its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote rather than to the winner of its statewide popular vote.
In 1992, for example, a participating red state would have had to throw its electoral votes to backers of Bill Clinton and his 43 percent plurality; in 2004, a participating blue state would have sided with George W. Bush (50.7 percent). Importantly, this is completely within the legal parameters of the Constitution, which grants state legislatures the power to award electoral votes in whichever manner they so choose. The Constitution also protects the right of states to enter into interstate compacts, as is frequently done (for example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).
The NPVIC is about common sense and fairness, about upholding the principle of one person, one vote how the U.S. conducts presidential elections. Voters in Springfield, Ohio, should not matter more than voters in Springfield, Mass. Yet one of the more depressing aspects of our presidential elections is how regional they’ve become. In the 2012 election, more than 99 percent of major-party television ad expenditures and post-convention campaign rallies was targeted at voters in just 10 states. And indeed, the 2012 turnout in swing states was 8.8 percent higher than in less hotly contested states. If a voter feels as if his or her vote counts, he or she is more willing to make an effort to cast it.
So far, 10 states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia have signed the compact. These states, representing 165 electoral college votes, are all blue, but there is growing GOP support for the compact, as underscored by a 27–2 vote among Republicans in the New York state senate and a win this year in Oklahoma’s deeply red state senate. Indeed, there is a groundswell of bipartisan support for the compact. The debate in New York was, state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) said, “one of the rare occasions when we see the Conservative Party and Working Families Party agree.”
When the NPVIC brings in enough states to represent 270 electoral votes, then it will go into effect, and the states that have signed up will be obligated to follow the mandate of all American voters. Put simply, whoever wins the national popular vote will be guaranteed all 270 votes of NPVIC-participating states, enough to guarantee a victory. One person, one vote. Alaskans and Vermonters may finally see a rally or three.
This is a reform whose time has come. The current state-by-state, winner-take-all system is not specified in the Constitution, which mandates only that states be allowed to determine themselves how they award their allotted electoral votes. State-by-state is one such method; NPV is another. In other words, NPV is just as valid an interpretation of the Constitution as is winner-take-all. In fact, most states didn’t even use winner-take-all in the early years of the Republic; it became dominant only in 1824).
Rob Richie and Andrea Levien of FairVote write, “NPV earns bipartisan support precisely because it accomplishes a policy goal that majorities of voters in both parties want without changing the Constitution.” To implement the compact for the 2020 presidential election, the 270-vote goal must be reached by July 20, 2020. As a New Yorker, I’d like my vote to matter; as an American, I’d like everyone else’s to matter, too.
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