By Brandon Martin
As Election Day 2020 approaches, a movement is underway in America to dramatically shift the way which Presidents are elected in future elections.
Under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, states would award their electoral
votes to the winner of the popular vote across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This ensures that whoever wins the popular vote in the country will always be awarded at least 270 electoral votes.
According to Patrick Rosenstiel, senior consultant for the National Popular Vote, “states are empowered to change their method of awarding electors through simple state statute which Virginia did when it moved from electing electors in presidential elector districts to their current state-based winner take all law.”
Virginia is one of nine states that have adopted the compact in one legislative chamber. Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have fully passed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Between the jurisdictions that have passed the compact, 196 electoral votes have already been gathered towards the cause. Once the necessary 270 votes have been secured, the compact will go into effect.
“A constitutional amendment is not required to move to a national popular vote if states totaling 270 or more electoral votes enact the National Popular Vote bill,” Rosenstiel said.
He added that the only other way to move to a national popular vote system would be to ratify the constitution which would require a two-thirds vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as a vote to ratify in three-fourths of the states.
“A constitutional amendment would permanently strip the state of the power to award electors,” Rosenstiel said. “The National Popular Vote Compact allows that state to retain the power to award electors so that future methods can be considered and enacted.”
Rosenstiel said that the movement was founded by “Republicans, Democrats, and independents–conservatives, liberals, and moderates–who believe one-person, one-vote is a foundational principle that should govern how we elect the President. We want every voter to be relevant in every presidential election and we want to guarantee the candidate who wins the most popular votes always wins the presidency.”
According to data provided by the National Popular Vote, four out of five U.S. Presidents have been elected without a popular majority. Additionally, 24 states had no campaign events in 2016, two out of three states are routinely ignored by presidential campaigns, and 12 out of 13 of the smallest states are also routinely ignored.
Rosenstiel said that the movement’s biggest hurdle has been time.
“It takes time to understand the shortcomings of the current system,” he said. “Increasingly, this system is being crushed under its own weight. Voters are tired of a system where four-fifths of the American people are ignored simply because they live in a fly-over state. It is only a matter of time that enough legislators choose to give every American voter a voice in presidential elections, guarantee the presidency to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all fifty states and force the candidates to campaign to every voter, in every state, in every presidential election.”
An important distinction of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is that the Electoral College is preserved rather than being abolished and Rosenstiel said that this means that the role of electors largely remains the same.
“Electors are bound through their loyalty to the party that elects them,” he said. “National Popular Vote clearly states that the states in the compact award their electors to the party of the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Electors will continue to execute their job, which is to vote for their party’s candidate for president.”
While “faithless electors” have never changed the outcome of a presidential election, the current system does still allow for these individuals to cast votes to other candidates besides the one chosen by their party. In 2016, a total of 10 electors cast votes for candidates other than the two major party nominees, according to FairVote.
Rosenstiel said that under the national popular vote, “faithless elector laws will continue to govern in states where they have been adopted just like they operate in the current system.”
According to a map of state laws regarding faithless electors provided by FairVote, Virginia currently has no laws penalizing faithless electors. North Carolina, however, imposes a $500 penalty and the elector’s vote is canceled. Other states like California have heavier punishments like a fine up to $1,000, imprisonment for 16-36 months or both but the vote will still count as cast.
Outside of faithless electors, Rosenstiel said that states who have agreed to the compact would also have the ability to withdraw in the future.
“As to withdrawal, states are free to vote to withdraw from the compact at any time but their withdrawal cannot take effect for a six month period–starting July 20 of a presidential year,” Rosenstiel said.
He added that the six month period includes important events like: the national conventions; the general election campaign; election day; counting of the votes; safe harbor date; the meeting of the Electoral Votes; counting of Electoral Votes in Congress and swearing-in of the next president.
“If the compacting states dip below 270 electoral votes all states revert back to their previous statutes until such time states with 270 electoral votes have the National Popular Vote bill in place,” Rosenstiel said. “This is clearly defined in the compact and enforced by the impairments clause of the United States Constitution.”
Likewise, Rosenstiel said that if they hit their goal of garnering 270 electoral votes under the compact, then the same standards would apply.
“The compact needs 270 electoral votes on July 20 of a presidential year to take effect,” he said. “At that point the compact triggers, the withdrawal provision (six-month period) takes effect, and the national popular vote governs the presidential election.”