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What is the National Popular Vote movement?
Ever hear of it?
“The most significant development in generations that no one is talking about.” That’s what the Santa Barbara Independent (newspaper) called the National Popular Vote. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t. And I tend to pay attention to such things. So what is it?
It is a bipartisan idea that is making its way through our state legislatures. It is a contract between states that says when the total number of the group of states’ electoral votes reaches 270 – the number needed to elect a president – each participating state will cast all its elector’s votes for the candidate who has won the popular vote nationwide. This contract is only to go into effect when the participating states have a majority in the Electoral College, in other words, they have the number of votes between them to meet the requirements of the Electoral College to name a winner. Until that time, the contracted states will award their electoral votes in the usual way – winner take all – in their individual states.
Is this plan constitutional? Surprisingly, yes it is. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives each state legislature the right to decide how to appoint its own electors. After a variety of changes in the early days of the republic, today only two states do not award their electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes within the boundaries of their state.
The NPV bill has become law in states possessing 165 electoral votes as of May 2015 (ten states and the District of Columbia). That is 61 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to put this contract into action. A bill is pending in the state of Oklahoma that would add seven electoral votes to the movement. At the rate states are passing this legislation, the number needed was expected be reached in time for the 2016 presidential election. But it has not. The block of red southern states has stymied this movement. If you live in one of these states and favor every vote counting - call, write, email your state legislators imploring them to move on this issue.
Seventy percent of people in this country say they favor the presidency being won by the candidate who gets the most votes – period. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen in 2000 for the first time since 1888. George Bush was the fourth president to take office without winning the popular vote. His fellow presidents who entered the White House under the same circumstances were John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), and Benjamin Harrison (1888). Popular vote winners in those races were Al Gore, Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden, and Grover Cleveland.
The NPV would guarantee it never happens again. But that is not the only factor prompting this change. Under our current system more than three quarters of the electorate is discounted by the candidates. They live in states that are overwhelmingly populated by voters committed to one party or the other – solid blue or solid red. In recent executive campaign seasons it has come down to nine states that have concerned the major candidates and their considerable resources. And some version of that scenario happens in every election, not a mere four. The NPV would mean every vote counts in every state. No voter can be written off as insignificant. One person. One vote.
Thirty-one state legislative chambers have passed a bill essentially signing this contract with the other states. For consistency I’m referring to these chambers as House and Senate even though some states refer to their House chamber in other terms.
District of Columbia Council
New Jersey House
New Jersey Senate
New Mexico House
New York Senate
North Carolina Senate
Rhode Island House
Rhode Island Senate
Legislation has been introduced in Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio. The issue is at least being debated in committee in every state in the union. In 2016 the Georgia General Assembly had enough sponsors for this bill for it to pass, but it was never brought to the floor of the house or senate for a vote. If you are interested in this effort succeeding, your voice could make the difference, especially in a situation like this one in Georgia.
It is often argued that the Electoral College protects small states from having little say in who gets elected nationally. But Ohio, New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, collectively had a 98.6 percent chance of determining the Electoral College winner in 2012, according to the FiveThirtyEight tipping-point index as it was calculated on election morning. In other words, these nine states are 70 times more powerful than the other 41 (which collectively had a 1.4 percent chance of determining the winner) combined. How are the small states being protected?