The National Popular Vote Initiative


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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18 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I am cautiously optimistic about what this means for the country.

    First, the Electoral College as it stands is a boon to the less-populated states, which tend to be rural and culturally conservative.

    These states also tend to vote Republican, but “Republican” is a designation that can and will shift in ideological meaning over time. Given the strong institutional incentives favoring the two-party system (ballot access requirements, the benefits of incumbency, etc) there is every incentive in the world for Republican leaders to hold onto what they can of power — and after National Popular Vote, this will mean swinging away from the religious right, to energize social moderates.

    In other words, while it might look to many as a straightforward win for the Democrats, I think really what it will do is cause the Republicans to get their house in order, which they will badly need to do over the next decade or so anyway.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, it benefits the less populous states, but not by much. It’s very rare that the popular vote and EC are going to diverge and when they do it’s likely that the popular vote is going to be very, very close. Close enough that they’ll think they can win next time.

      The primary beneficiaries of the EC are mid-size (and up) swing states. The small states get their boost primarily from the senate.Report

      • @Trumwill, To concure with Trumwill I would provide a little background info: The President that won the EC lost the popular vote exactly 4 times in our nation’s history (Adams Jr, Hayes, Harrison and Bush). That means 4 terms out of 56 were affected. In the case of Bush he was re-elected with a popular vote so that seems to emply the EC result in 2000 was ultimately satisfactory to a majority of voters.

        Short point: Trumwill is right. The EC rarely diverges from the popular vote and when it has the margin was pretty small.Report

  2. The question I would ask is, how would removing the EC change the political landscape? Won’t politicians just go from ignoring mid-sized, non-swing states to ignoring any areas that aren’t heavily populated? It seems like a shell game regarding who gets ignored by candidates.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I still want to know who officially counts the vote.Report

  4. If we lived in a republic where people had demonstrated more concern about policies and abilities than about charisma and emotion, I would be happier about NPV. While the idea of the NPV is initially quite appealing, I see a dark side: increased polarization of candidates and thus of the polity as a whole because it rewards what are unfairly called “Rovian tactics” of using polarizing wedge issues to get out the vote on one’s own side and dirty tricks to depress the vote on the other.

    After all, if NPV makes “swing states” less important and increased the importance of “pumping up the volume” in one’s own safe regions, then it de-incentivizes efforts to reach out to moderates or even members of the other party, because it’s easier, cheaper, and at least as rewarding if not more rewarding to get more of your own voters out by throwing them red meat. All that counts is getting more votes than the other candidate, after all; state lines are irrelevant but writing off entire regions and redoubling efforts where it’s easy to win becomes a better strategy. A Republican would campaign a lot in Illinois, even against Obama, but never set foot in the Chicago region. A Democrat would go to Texas, but pretty much only to Austin and ignore Dallas entirely.

    Thus, a Republican would have an incentive under NPV to never set foot anywhere north of the Potomac River during their campaigns, and to advocate a constitutional amendment to make Christianity the official religion of America and issuing licenses to hunt illegal immigrants for sport. Democrats, on the other hand, could plausibly ignore every region that is not near an ocean and advocate single-payer healthcare, nationalized banks, and mandatory toilet paper recycling. Meanwhile, the Republican would be undermined with rumors of marital infidelity and the Democrat with rumors of corruption, none of them with the remotest basis in reality.

    I’d predict that a moderate voter, one undecided but susceptible to persuasion about the benefits and burdens of competing policies or arguments about why one candidate is better than the other, would tend to be ignored rather than catered to in an NPV system. Those kinds of voters are the ones who will carry a “swing state” like Pennsylvania or Florida under the EC right now. A moderate voter in California or Texas is ignored now, yes, but a moderate voter in Ohio is much prized. So as it is, it may well be the case that only relatively a small number of voters, perhaps a million or so people of middle-of-the-road politics in four or five states, actually decide the election.

    But at least it’s people who in theory listen to and evaluate the candidates objectively before making up their minds. Those moderates are the losers of NPV, and far-from-the-center partisans are the winners.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      @Transplanted Lawyer, What are the Republicans’ “safe regions” in which there is a volume of support of any considerable amount that rivals major urban areas which they can “pump up,” if not “certain states”?Report

      • @Michael Drew, let me offer three areas of interest as examples: downstate Illinois, upstate New York, and inland California. All of these are in traditionally Democratic states under the existing EC so they are of interest for this topic. Granted, their population density is not as great as the urban areas that dominate those states, but there are still lots of votes to be had there and there are plenty of smaller cities and exurban areas ripe for GOP activity.

        I live in an inland area of California, and there was virtually no presence in my neck of the woods by the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. The GOP campaign had no reason whatsoever to campaign here, even though this particular area is heavily Republican. My zip code voted for McCain over Obama by about a 60%-40% ratio, but there was no TV, no direct mail, no precinct walkers, and certainly no staffers to produce that result. Nor should there have been — every dollar spent by McCain in California would have been a dollar wasted because there was zero chance McCain was going to carry California regardless of how much McCain moderated his policies (or his persona) to appeal to voters in California as a whole. Which is why a lot of Republicans I know didn’t even bother to vote; they knew that Obama was going to carry California anyway so they felt like their vote didn’t matter.

        Under NPV, McCain would have had an incentive to appeal to the inland-area voters because even if he lost the coastal cities, an extra five to ten percent margin in the inland areas, all other things being equal, could have contributed to getting closer to a plurality of the national vote. This would be a good thing, if systemically increased voter turnout is stipulated to be an inherent good. But I do not so stipulate. My concern is that the increased voter turnout will come at the expense of degrading the quality of the products from which the voters will be asked to choose.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          @Transplanted Lawyer, Well, should it come to pass, I wish them good luck. Thoughts on which vote counts states would legally peg the pledges of their electors to? No official national body currently counts the national vote. (I realize you’re not a strong NPV advocate yourself…)Report

          • @Michael Drew, I don’t think the Constitution would allow for a national authority to count the vote. It would have to be the cumulative results officially certified by the several states, which means if we look too closely into it, we’re back into Bush-Gore 2000 hanging chad territory. I don’t think anyone wants that.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              @Transplanted Lawyer, That’s where my brain goes when I think about it, too. Potentially Florida2000*50. Which would really be Florida2000^50. On top of that, like you say, states would have to build procedures to monitor all the states’ SoS offices, stc. And even if there were no counting problems at all, I can just hear Wolf Blitzer trying to explain what is going on on election night. I can honestly see people going out into the streets in non-NPV states.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      @Transplanted Lawyer, It think that over-estimates the reality of regional polarisation. Even here in Sodom-by-the-Sea 40% of the population apparently votes Republican (damned if I’ve ever met any of them, but thats another matter …). Even in deepest Dixie there are a similar number of Democrats. The whole red/blue state thing is an artifact of the way votes are counted – stop counting votes that way and the effect with largely go away.

      I suspect the reality of NPV would be increases emphasis on national media campaigns and decreased emphasis targetting particular regions. I’m not really sure its a good thing, but its certainly more democratic.Report

  5. Avatar kohler says:

    The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

    The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

    A nationwide recount would not happen. We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election. The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires. The larger the number of voters in an election, the smaller the chance of close election results.

    Recounts in presidential elections would be far less likely to occur under a national popular vote system than under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each separate state).

    In fact, if the President were elected from a single nationwide pool of votes, one would expect a recount once in 332 elections, or once in 1,328 years.

    Based on a recent study of 7,645 statewide elections in the 26-year period from 1980 through 2006 by FairVote, the probability of a recount is 1 in 332 elections (23 recounts in 7,645 elections). Thus, with 420 statewide races on the ballot in 2006, there was one statewide recount (the Vermont State Auditor’s race). Similarly, there was one recount in 2004 (the Washington state governor) and one in 2008 (the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota).

    Under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system, there are 51 separate opportunities for recounts in every presidential election. Thus, our nation’s 56 presidential elections have really been 2,084 separate state-level elections. In this group of 2,084 separate elections, there have been five seriously disputed counts. The current system has repeatedly created artificial crises in which the vote has been extremely close in particular states, while not close on a nationwide basis. Note that five seriously disputed counts out of the 2,084 separate state-level elections is closely in line with the historically observed probability of 1 in 332.

    A national popular vote would reduce the probability of a recount from five instances in 56 presidential elections to one instance in 332 elections (that is, once in 1,328 years).Report

  6. Avatar kohler says:

    Under both the current system and the National Popular Vote approach, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the common nationwide date for the meeting of the Electoral College. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the states are expected to make their “final determination” six days before the Electoral College meets.

    Neither the current system nor the National Popular Vote compact permits any state to get involved in judging the election returns of other states. Existing federal law (the “safe harbor” provision in section 5 of title 3 of the United States Code) specifies that a state’s “final determination” of its presidential election returns is “conclusive”(if done in a timely manner and in accordance with laws that existed prior to Election Day).

    The National Popular Vote compact is patterned directly after existing federal law and requires each state to treat as “conclusive” each other state’s “final determination” of its vote for President. No state has any power to examine or judge the presidential election returns of any other state under the National Popular Vote compact.

    Current federal law (Title 3, chapter 1, section 6 of the United States Code) requires the states to report the November popular vote numbers (the “canvas”) in what is called a “Certificate of Ascertainment.” You can see the Certificates of Ascertainment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia containing the official count of the popular vote at the NARA web site at

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  8. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    While I don’t buy the argument that states aren’t allowed to mess with the way they apportion their electoral votes, I’m surprised that no one seems to have noticed that this has interesting implications for the “one person, one vote” doctrine that the Supreme Court has been pretty stringent about enforcing.

    In effect, this is saying that the outcome of Massachusetts electoral votes will be affected by votes cast not in Massachusetts. I’m not convinced that this is permissible. It could lead to the bizarre but easily-conceivable result of the state’s votes going to a candidate which only got 30-40% of the vote in that state, a result which can easily be construed to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.Report