Can we elect our president by popular vote?
Last week’s Supreme Court decision brought another reminder of our state-based political system. In a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that states could punish “faithless electors.” While we take it for granted that whoever wins the popular vote in each state (with two notable exceptions) wins that state’s electoral college votes, technically those votes aren’t allocated until the electors in those states cast their ballot.
These days, most states have laws requiring that electors must vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state. But 2016 saw a notable number of “faithless electors” – electors who voted for a candidate other than the popular vote winner. Last week’s ruling affirmed that states can punish members of the Electoral College who break their pledge to vote for the state’s popular vote winner.
While this might seem like a minor decision, it has major implications. In this ruling, the Court strongly reaffirmed the power of the states over their electoral votes. Which, ironically, is key for abolishing the Electoral College.
Because the Electoral College is in the constitution, abolishing it isn’t an easy task. But the National Popular Vote compact is an ingenious workaround that would maintain the Electoral College system, while electing as president the winner of the national popular vote. Here’s how it works.
The National Popular Vote compact is a state law that has been passed in 15 states plus the District of Columbia. Per this bill, once enough states to reach 270 Electoral College votes have passed the compact into law, these states would automatically require their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, not the winner of the popular vote in their state. This would effectively end the Electoral College system.
The states that have enacted the national popular vote bill (CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI*, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NM, NY*, OR, RI, VT, WA) total 196 Electoral College votes and demonstrate a strong trend: with the exception of New York and Hawaii (where the GOP governor tried to thwart the effort), they were all Democratic trifecta states at the time of passage. While this isn’t a purely partisan issue (the bill has passed GOP-held chambers in certain states), once again we see that there is one party working to create an electoral system that values each voters’ vote and one party interested in maintaining an unfair and outdated system.
So, how do we get from 196 to 270? The path runs directly through current Democratic trifecta states, and Democratic trifecta states we can create this year. Right now, the Democratic trifecta states of Maine (4 votes), Nevada (6 votes), and Virginia (13 votes) have not passed the compact. In 2021, it should be a top priority to pass the compact in each of those states, which would bring the total to 219 votes.
This year, Democrats have a strong path to creating Democratic trifectas in three more states: Minnesota (10 votes), North Carolina (15 votes), and Pennsylvania (20 votes). Flipping these chambers and passing the compact into law would bring the total to 264 votes.
Where do we get the final 6 votes? Three states emerge as top contenders: Arizona (11 votes), Michigan (16 votes), or Wisconsin (10 votes). This year, Democrats are in a strong position to flip both Houses of the Arizona legislature and the Michigan House. Democrats also have a path to a majority in the House in Wisconsin. The holdup in these three states would be the Republican Governor (Arizona) and Republican Senates (Michigan and Wisconsin). This would make targeting those offices and chambers (while holding current offices and chambers) a top priority in 2022, so Democrats could enact the compact in at least one (but ideally all) of these states in 2023.
With these victories, the 2024 election would be the first election in our nation’s history to be decided by the winner of the national popular vote.
2024 is a long way off, but there’s something you can do right now to make a difference: click on one of the states linked above and make a donation to support candidates in that state running to flip the legislature blue.
This is a down payment not only on changing the way we elect our president, but replacing the GOP-led legislatures in these states with a new generation of leadership who will undo years of regressive policymaking. Instead of passing laws that make it harder to vote, undo protections for workers, attack women’s reproductive rights, and discriminate against the LGBTQ community, we can enact majorities that will prioritize voters, invest in workers, ensure a woman’s right to choose, and enshrine into law protections for the LGBTQ community, to note just some of the progress we could make with Democratic majorities in these states.
*Hawaii had a GOP Governor at the time of passage who vetoed the bill. Both houses of the legislature (which were under Democratic control) voted to override the veto to enact the compact into law.
*In 2016, Republicans controlled the New York State Senate. The National Popular vote bill passed with strong bipartisan support in the New York legislature.