By Dr. John R. Koza, Chairman of National Popular Vote
The Constitution provides a built-in mechanism for fixing the shortcomings of the current system of electing the president.
The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the president is that four out of five states, and four out of five Americans, are politically irrelevant in presidential campaigns. After being nominated in 2012, President Obama conducted campaign events in just eight states, and Governor Romney did so in only ten. Just ten states received 98 percent of the $940 million spent on advertising by the two campaigns and their supporters.
These problems are caused by state winner-take-all statutes (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 concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. The common feature of the ten states that received attention in the 2012 presidential campaign was that the eventual winner received 53 percent or less of the state’s vote -- that is, they were closely divided “battleground” states.
Another problem caused by state winner-take-all statutes is that candidates have won the White House without winning the most popular votes nationwide in 4 of our nation’s 57 presidential elections -- 1 in 14 times. In 2012, a shift of about 150,000 votes in a handful of states would have elected Governor Romney despite President Obama’s nationwide lead of over 4,000,000 votes.
The winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was not debated by the Constitutional Convention. It is not discussed in the Federalist Papers. It was used by only three states in our nation’s first presidential election in 1789. The Founders were dead for decades before the winner-take-all rule became the predominant method of awarding electoral votes.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors ….”. Thus, the Constitution permits state legislatures to repeal their current winner-take-all statutes and replace these statutes with something better.
Under the National Popular Vote interstate compact, all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes -- that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).
So far, eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted the National Popular Vote compact. These states possess 132 electoral votes -- roughly half of the 270 electoral votes required for the compact to take effect.
The National Popular Vote compact will guarantee the presidency to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states. It would make every voter, in every state matter in every presidential election.
Let’s make sure that 2012 becomes the last presidential election in which four out of five American voters are ignored by candidates seeking the presidency. Let’s encourage additional states to enact the National Popular Vote compact.
Additional information is available in the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote (available for reading or downloading for free at National Popular Vote).