The Popular Vote Compact

Alan Zendell, September 24, 2019

Like the majority of Americans, I hate the Electoral College. Their vaunted wisdom aside, our Founding Fathers really blew that one. Despite all the collective anguish suffered when two of our last five presidents won their elections while losing the national popular vote, there remains a lot of confusion concerning the Electoral College, so let’s clear that up first.

Our Constitution mandated the Electoral College, which means a constitutional amendment would be required to get rid of it. Since the country’s present demographics favor Republicans in the Electoral Vote count, and our Congress is gridlocked politically, don’t hold your breath waiting for one. But we may not have to abolish the Electoral College if we can find a way to subvert its harmful effects.

Though the Constitution decrees that the President must be elected by the Electoral College, the method by which states choose to allocate their votes is determined entirely by each individual state, with no input from either the Congress or the Executive Branch. Maine and Colorado have both passed statutes that allow those states to cast one vote for the candidate who wins each Congressional District, with its remaining two going to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state. If every state did that, the system somewhat less egregious, but it would still be badly broken.

The solution may be the National Interstate Popular Vote Compact, an agreement that commits every participating state to cast all of its Electoral Votes for the candidate who wins the national popular vote. The Compact will go into effect when the number of states that comprise it control at least 270 Electoral Votes, the number required to elect a President. If the Compact had been in effect in 2000, Al Gore would have been elected instead of George W. Bush. If it had been in effect in 2016, Hillary Clinton would be now President. Most important, if it goes into effect in time for the 2020 election, the new President will be whoever wins the national popular vote. Is that likely to happen?

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia that together control 196 Electoral Votes have already signed on to the Compact. It has also passed at least one legislative chamber in eight more states possessing 75 Electoral Votes. If all those states vote it into law, the Compact will have 271. Two other states possessing 27 more electoral votes have passed the Compact in legislative committees.

Predicting whether the Compact will be in effect before the 2020 election is a fool’s gambit. States currently in it can change their minds and withdraw, and even if the full legislature in a state passes the Compact, the Governor can still veto it. But the uncertainty of the Compact’s future is precisely why it should be discussed now by every American who wants to see the Electoral College go away.

There are basically two competing viewpoints, political and principle. People who strongly believe in democratic elections favor the Compact. They include prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich and four-term Georgia Congressman Bob Barr who is best known for his role in the impeachment of President Clinton. On the political side, it’s reasonable to predict that the Compact would render Donald Trump’s re-election virtually impossible. He has never polled more than 45% since he announced his candidacy in 2015, and his current approval rating is below 40%. It’s certainly possible that Trump could pull off another Electoral College miracle under current rules, but winning the popular vote would be an unlikely stretch by any measure.

Several large Electoral Vote states are still in play. For example, in Pennsylvania the Compact is stuck in legislative committees, although polls indicate that 75% of Pennsylvanians support it. Ohio is in a similar position, and Michigan’s House of Representatives has passed it, with both states’ polls showing popular support approaching 80%.

There’s an irony in these numbers. What better indicator could we ask for that voters want to see their president elected by popular vote? What better indication do we need that several state legislatures seem to be politically stonewalling the desires of their constituents? If your state hasn’t joined the Compact yet, and you’re in the camp that wants a fairly elected president, there is nothing that deserves and needs your support more than the effort to get it passed before the end of next summer.

Once again, I’m proud to live in Maryland, the first state to enact the Compact into law!

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2 Responses to The Popular Vote Compact

  1. Norman Bickman says:

    Based on the way things are going lately I don’t think Mike Pence has a chance to win in 2020.

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