By Matthew Cardinale
Unlike many of the younger democracies around the world, the United States still does not elect its president by popular vote. Indeed, a majority of U.S. citizens elected Al Gore to be president in 2000, but because the U.S. elects its presidents by way of a convoluted system called the electoral college, George W. Bush was declared the winner that year instead.
For years, there have been efforts to eliminate the electoral college in order to change the way presidents are elected in the U.S. to a national popular vote. However, doing so would require an amendment to the constitution, which would be very difficult.
Currently, the constitution mandates the electoral college system, which gives each state a certain number of delegates, who in turn decide who is elected president.
Each state also gets to decide how to allocate its delegates.
According to Article II, Section I of the Constitution, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.”
In most states today, all the delegates go to the winning candidate in that state, while in some states, the delegates are distributed proportionally to how many votes were received by each candidate in the state.
In recent years, however, an organisation called National Popular Vote (NPV) has been pushing an innovative plan to achieve the outcome of a national popular vote, although not by eliminating the electoral college.
The plan is based on idea by Dr. John Koza, chair of NPV. Koza told IPS he’s “not one hundred percent sure” when he came up with the idea. “It’s been growing for some time. I lost a bet in college where I thought the U.S. Constitution specified how votes (delegates) were awarded. In fact, it doesn’t.”
The NPV plan is to convince a sufficient number of state legislatures to change the way they allocate their delegates to giving all of their delegates to whoever receives the most votes from U.S. citizens nationwide, that is, to whoever wins the national popular vote.
NPV determined that if enough states to make up a majority of the electoral college delegates agreed to do this, the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide would, by default, become president.
Over the past few years state legislatures having been doing just that, and NPV is quietly drawing close to its goal of having enough states sign on to declare victory.
NPV has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes, making up 49 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.
These states are California (55 delegates), Hawaii (four), Illinois (20), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New Jersey (14), Vermont (three), and Washington (12), in addition to Washington, DC (three).
Former Minnesota House Majority Leader Laura Brod is a strong supporter of NPV.
“It hasn’t quite passed in Minnesota, we’ve been making very good strides in that state,” Brod told IPS.
“It’s an issue that’s extremely important to the people… in Minnesota and to two-thirds of this country currently ignored in the winner-take-all system,” Brod said.
In the current system, where most states allocate all their delegates to the statewide winner, heavily Democratic states almost always give all their delegates to the Democratic nominee for president, while heavily Republican states almost always give all their delegates to the Republican nominee. The consequence of this is that the so-called “swing states”, which are neither reliably Democratic nor Republican, get most of the candidates’ attention.
“When I look at the states that have passed it, these states are fly- over states. There are a lot of red (Republican) states looking at this issue,” Brod, who is Republican, told IPS.
“It’s truly a nonpartisan issue. While Democrats and Republicans look at it for different reasons, they come to same conclusion: 35 states should not be ignored in presidential campaigns,” she added.
“As a legislator, campaigns are ignoring the constituents you represent. They’re not polling, not spending money in the state, they’re not talking or thinking about the issues. That’s why you’re seeing such strong legislative support
“It kind of comes down to the fact that everybody’s vote should be equal, it’s pretty simple,” Brod said.
Detractors argue that this plan subverts the intent of the electoral college.
“The founders specifically intended state legislators to act in best interests of their state. It’s an unfettered choice, there’s no parametres in the constitution, you can do it this way or that way or maybe this way. The constitution says it’s the state’s job to decide,” Brod said in response.
Koza is delighted with the progress of the NPV plan so far. “When we started we had no idea whether anyone would sponsor or pass it. Maryland passed it in 2007. Every year, one or two states enacted it,” he said.
Koza and Brod both predict that, while the NPV movement has gotten little national attention, the NPV plan will be in fact be in place by the 2016 presidential election.