(Editor's Note: The Hawaii Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Linda Lingle to pass National Popular Vote on May 1, 2008. The Legislature has the authority to reverse its decision.)
The Electoral College has fallen on hard times. A new Gallup poll reveals that a majority of Americans—62 percent—would prefer that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide becomes President, while 35 percent would keep the Electoral College. Since the 2000 U.S. presidential election, there have been many ill-informed calls to abolish the Electoral College. The National Popular Vote (NPV) plan is the latest in a long line of schemes designed to replace the Electoral College. NPV rests on flawed assumptions about the Electoral College, violates the Constitution, and is rife with practical problems.
The National Popular Vote is an interstate compact in which participating states agree in advance to disregard the popular vote results in their states and allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This agreement would go into effect if enough states cumulatively possessing 270 electoral votes (the number needed to win an election) join the compact. So far, eight states and the District of Columbia (accounting for 132 electoral votes) have signed on to NPV and promised to ignore their citizens’ choice for President.
The National Popular Vote wrongly assumes that the Electoral College does not reflect the nation’s choice for President. As Tara Ross explains in "The Electoral College: Enlightened Democracy," the Electoral College rewards candidates who build national coalitions and confers a mandate to govern. With the Electoral College, presidential candidates compete in simultaneous elections across 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each state, except Maine and Nebraska, has a “winner-take-all” system, whereby the presidential candidate who wins the state receives all the state’s electoral votes (calculated by adding the number of Representatives to the number of Senators in the state). A President is elected when one candidate obtains a majority of the states' electoral votes.
The Electoral College ensures that candidates build nationwide coalitions and demonstrate that they will be good representatives for a diverse nation composed of both small and large states. Candidates who focus too narrowly on a handful of states, regions, or metropolitan population centers will not gain enough electoral votes. The Electoral College also magnifies the margin of victory for presidential candidates and, therefore, confers a sense of legitimacy to the new President.
By attempting to alter the Constitution through an interstate compact without congressional consent or an amendment, the NPV is unconstitutional. The Compact Clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 10, Clause 3) prohibits states from entering into any agreement with another state without the consent of Congress. Supporters of the NPV claim that, because Article II of the Constitution gives state legislatures the power to determine how electors are chosen, the NPV is constitutional and requires no approval by Congress. “Because it is politically easier to convince a smaller number of states with the required electoral votes to join the compact than to persuade two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states to amend the Constitution“ Hans von Spakovsky explains in his latest paper, “the compact is an expedient way for proponents of the NPV to circumvent the Electoral College without formally amending the Constitution.”
With the NPV, a candidate does not need to win a majority of the national vote to be President. The NPV awards the presidential election to whichever candidate receives a plurality rather than the majority of the national popular vote. With its plurality requirement, the NPV could encourage the rise of third parties and lead to the election of presidential candidates by unprecedented, small margins. A President elected by only 25 or 35 percent of the American people would not have a mandate to govern, and questions about his legitimacy could pose grave consequences both for the nation and for any actions he took as President.
To make matters worse, the NPV would encourage voter fraud and make recounts more problematic. Currently, a fraudulent vote is counted only in the district in which it was cast and therefore can affect the electoral votes only in that particular state. Under the NPV, however, voter fraud in any state would affect the aggregate national vote. Additionally, any suspicions necessitating a recount in even a single district would be an incentive for a national recount. Thus, rather than just forcing a single state with a close vote to go through the painful process of recounting votes by precinct, a recount will effectively challenge the tallies of each the nation’s 180,000 precincts.
Replacing the Electoral College with the National Popular Vote would be a disaster. For more than two centuries, the Electoral College has proved itself to be both effective in providing orderly elections for President and resilient in allowing a stable transfer of power of the leadership of the world’s greatest democracy. And that makes it a constitutional process worth keeping.
Heritage: Keep reading about National Popular Vote and the Electoral College
HFP: Hawaii’s Electoral College Dropout Scheme Debunked
WHT: Subverting the electoral college