So who are these people? Got me. I’m a Virginia state legislator, and I can only name three of Virginia’s 13 electors. In Virginia, the electors’ names don’t even appear on the ballot. Yet our entire system rests on their shoulders. Should it?
Let’s start with three basic questions. Do you: (a) think every American voter should matter? (b) agree we all should be counted equally? (c) support government of the people, by the people and for the people?
I do. And I’ll bet you do, too. These are hardly new ideas. The proclamation that all men are created equal and that governments derive their just power solely from the consent of the governed was penned almost 250 years ago in the Declaration of Independence and reaffirmed in President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Of course, the United States is considerably more democratic now than in 1776 or 1863. Slavery was abolished. Women and Black people can vote. And yet, we continue to deviate from these core American principles in the way we choose our president. We still use a convoluted plan designed to give outsize power to enslavers at the expense of everyone else.
The electoral college was grounded in two key principles: (1) political parties will never exist; and (2) the American people can never be trusted to directly elect the president. Oops. The first proposition proved false as early as 1796, just seven years after the Constitution was ratified. As for the second proposition, we’ve had direct elections for U.S. senators for more than a century now, with little complaint.
So why do we keep this system? Do we really think voters in small states should have four times the representation of voters in large states? If I relocate across the Potomac, do I automatically become three times wiser?
Don’t snicker, D.C. voters. It’s not as if your vote’s extra electoral weight means much to the candidates either. In yet another development the Founders never foresaw, D.C. and 48 out of 50 states now require their electors to cast all their ballots for the presidential candidate who wins a plurality of each respective jurisdiction, regardless of the margin of victory. Small states and D.C. don’t matter; competitive states do. For those of us who live in a strong blue or red jurisdiction, a large number of us could sit out the presidential election entirely and it wouldn’t make a whit of difference. Only our votes for local candidates count in any meaningful way.
That’s why presidential candidates cater almost exclusively to voters in swing states. In 2020, as in past years, they spent an astounding 90 percent of their advertising dollars in just six states. Two-thirds of candidate events occurred in only five states — and half in just three. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans (including all of us in D.C., Maryland and Virginia) were virtually ignored.
A tiny minority of Americans’ votes for president do matter, of course. Just not ours. No wonder turnout in non-swing states is so low. No wonder voters are so cynical.
Thankfully, there is a solution. The Constitution grants state legislatures exclusive authority to appoint electors however we see fit. So, if states with a combined 270 or more electoral votes enter a compact to give all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, the people of the United States would thereby elect the president of the United States. No constitutional amendment required.
This isn’t some fantasy. D.C., Maryland and 14 other states with 196 electoral votes combined have already enacted this compact. In 2021, my legislation would add Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to these. Though the old state-winner-take-all system would remain in place until enough states ratified the compact to reach 270 electoral votes, Virginia could reduce the number needed to cross this threshold to just 61.
Imagine Election Day 2024. All across the United States, Americans go to the polls knowing every one of their votes truly counts. No one is “better” than anyone else. Whether you’re a Republican in D.C. or a Democrat in the Dakotas, your choice matters. Presidential candidates run truly national campaigns. They have to care what every American thinks regardless of where we live. Turnout skyrockets nationwide.
My legislation to do this passed Virginia’s House this year and is likely to do so in 2021. The state Senate should join us in adding Virginia to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. We all should choose government of the people, by the people, for the people. And may it never perish from the earth.