Elect the U.S. President through the popular vote, not the Electoral College


Credit: FairVote

Next week, millions of Americans will head to the polls to cast their vote for U.S. President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, state legislator, state attorney general, and city council members. Civic participation via the right to vote is the ideal inherent in all these elections, but they aren’t all decided the same way. One feature of the election for President distinguishes it from the rest: the Electoral College. Whereas other elections are decided by popular vote—whoever wins the majority of individual votes cast wins the office—the U.S. President is technically chosen the following December by Electors in the Electoral College.

A few implications of this byzantine Electoral College system stand out, in addition to confusion for voters because it’s not clear how their individual votes matter. As this explainer on a bipartisan plan to modernize the presidential election notes:

The shortcomings of the current system of electing the President stem from state winner-take-all statutes (i.e., state laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each separate state).

Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. As shown on the map, two-thirds of the 2012 general-election campaign events (176 of 253) were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa). Thirty-eight states were ignored.

State winner-take-all statutes adversely affect governance. “Battleground” states receive 7% more federal grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

Also, state winner-take-all statutes have allowed candidates to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in four of our 57 presidential elections—1 in 14 times.

That modernization proposal is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The nonpartisan FairVote organization offers more details here:

The Constitution gives states full control over how they allocate their electoral votes. The current winner-take-all method, in which the winner of the statewide popular vote wins all of that state’s electoral votes, is a choice—and states can choose differently. Under the National Popular Vote interstate compact, states choose to allocate their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC. This compact takes effect only when enough states sign on to guarantee that the national popular vote winner wins the presidency. That means states with a combined total of 270 electoral votes—a majority of the Electoral College—must join the compact for it to take effect.

In short, upgrading our presidential election system to a popular vote would ensure that “every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.” It’s not a fantastical idea either; currently the Interstate Compact concept enjoys bipartisan support, particularly from good government reformists. According to one advocacy website, the tally is as follows:

For more information, see National Popular Vote (2016) and National Popular Vote, FairVote (2016).