Connecticut, where I live, is the most recent state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The Nutmeg State was wrong to join this Compact, designed to ensure that the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote also wins in the Electoral College.
Supporters of the Compact argue that the popular vote for President can in practice be implemented without amending the Constitution: If states casting a majority of the votes in the Electoral College agree to pledge their respective electors to support the presidential candidate winning the nationwide popular vote, the President will effectively be chosen by popular vote – even though the constitutional formality of the Electoral College will be technically observed.
With Connecticut adopting the Compact, the Compact has now been joined by states casting 172 of the 270 electoral votes constituting a majority of the Electoral College.
I oppose the Compact for a number of reasons: The arguments against the Electoral College and for today instituting popular election of the President are weak. I am particularly skeptical of a so-called national popular vote conducted, not using uniform national voting rules, but instead conducted under each state’s own electoral statutes.
Moreover, structural changes of the type embodied in the Compact often cause unintended and undesirable consequences. Consider, for example, the fact that the Compact would not require the states to adopt uniform rules for voting eligibility. Thus, the popular vote under the Compact would continue to depend upon the vagaries of different states’ various voting laws. Suppose, for example, that one state allows sixteen and seventeen year olds to vote to maximize its impact on the nationwide popular vote.
I am consequentially skeptical of the type of radical change embodied in the Compact. I would instead encourage state-by-state experimentation with the methods of selecting Electoral College electors.
We would not adopt the Electoral College today if we were starting from scratch. But we are not starting from scratch. The Electoral College has been built into our political system. Structural changes of the sort to be implemented by the Compact often surprise and disappoint their proponents with unintended consequences.
I instead favor state-by-state experimentation with the method of selecting each state’s Electoral College delegation. Today, forty-eight states (every state but Maine and Nebraska) allocate all of their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who wins the statewide vote. Maine and Nebraska, allocate one of their electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district. Such district-by-district allocation of electoral votes was common during the early years of the Republic. It would be productive to see what would happen if a larger state returned to this system in 2020.
In 2004, Colorado’s voters rejected a state constitutional amendment which would have allocated that state’s electors on a proportional basis. Proportional representation would also be a worthwhile experiment for one or more states to undertake in 2020.
The Electoral College has evolved over two centuries. Further evolution and experimentation should proceed. But proponents of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact should remember the old adage: Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.
Featured Image Credit: “Choice Select Decide Decision Vote Policy Board” by geralt. CC0 via Pixabay.