A National Popular Vote Amendment
(Disclosure: Jane the Actuary’s recent proposal for reforming the Electoral College may have somehow inspired or influenced my own. I’m not sure I fully understand her proposal, though. But I thought I’d give her credit just in case.)
- Keep the current scheme of electoral votes apportioned to states in accordance with their representation in the House + two senators.
- Add an additional number of “at large” electors, all of whom go to the winner of the national popular vote.
- Ways to do choose or set the number of “at large” electors:
- Choose a number of electors, say 1 or 2, per state.
- Pick a flat number, say, “50.”
- Create a formula, so that the number somehow tracks with, for example, the number of electors from the state with the largest number of electors, or as some percentage of the number of EC votes.
- Limiting factors in setting the number of “at large” electors: The number should be large enough to so that candidates want to try to win it, but small enough so that in theory they could win the presidency without the “at large” electors.
- Yes, this all would require a constitutional amendment.
The key advantage to this plan is that it or something like it is the most likely to win the support of the Congresspersons and states necessary to ratify the amendment. It creates a new balance of “state interest” and “popular vote” without doing away with the former completely. Whether we really ought to preserve a “state interest” is up for debate.
Another advantage–and the reason we might want to do it in the first place: This amendment could give some legitimacy to the process that is lacking in our purely state-by-state system.
One problem is that someone could still win the popular vote under this system and lose the presidency. That’s a “problem” if the main reason for doing the plan is to lend more legitimacy to the election process.
Another problem is what to do about a recount situation? What threshold for a recount would be required and who (the states or the feds) are to manage the recount? One solution might be that if the race is close enough by, say, 100,000 votes, then who wins the “at large” electors would be determined by Congress. How this might be further complicated in cases where, with even those “at large” electors allocated, no single person gets a majority of electoral votes, I haven’t thought out very much.
Yet another problem: It takes a while to count all the votes and we wouldn’t know the results for days or even weeks. That might not be an insurmountable problem, but it’d be there.
One problem that I’m sidestepping, but am aware of, is whether to continue having “electors” (who can change their mind) or replace them with “electoral votes” (which are granted to whoever wins them).
There are likely other problems I haven’t thought of, some that are foreseeable and some that aren’t. I’d like to hear your thoughts!
Is this even a good idea?
While I’m not prepared to argue vigorously for this amendment, I like the idea. It would infuse an element of the national popular vote without detracting too much from the current EC system. Whether that is good thing or not might depend on what you think of the electoral college itself. But one of my priors is that when we’re talking about structural reforms, single-point reforms, like adding a popular vote element to the existing system, is better than an overhaul, such as eliminating the EC and starting from scratch.
But would such a reform would be worth the time and effort necessary to implement it? It’s probably relevant that the electoral college already reflects the outcome of the popular vote in most cases. I haven’t decided on whether this kind of reform is that important. I do think, though, that the amendment I offer for discussion is of the type most likely to actually get approved.