On Tuesday, the State of New York took a baby step—or maybe a giant leap!—toward making the United States of America something more closely resembling a modern democracy: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill joining up the Empire State to the National Popular Vote (N.P.V.) interstate compact. As I’ve explained many times (fifty-one, to be exact), N.P.V. is a way to elect our Presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators, and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes—all of them—and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number. And it does this without changing a word of the Constitution. Impossible, you say? No. Quite possible—even probable—and in time for 2020, if not for 2016. Here’s how it works: Suppose you could get a bunch of states to pledge that once there are enough of them to possess at least two hundred and seventy electoral votes—a majority of the Electoral College—they will thenceforth cast all their electoral votes for whatever candidate gets the most popular votes in the entire country. As soon as that happens, presto change-o: the next time you go to the polls, you’ll be voting in a true national election. No more ten or so battleground states, no more forty or so spectator states, just the United States—all of them, and all of the voters who live in them.
Unless you’ve been following this pretty closely, it will surprise you to learn that, before this week, ten states (counting D.C.) had already signed on. Now it’s eleven, and between them they have a hundred and sixty-five electoral votes—sixty-one per cent of the total needed to bring the compact into effect.
When the framers were doing their framing, they had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to elect the “Chief Magistrate.” They ended up punting the job back to the states. The only guidance they provided was this (Article II, Section 1, italics mine): “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors,” the number being equal to the state’s congressional delegation.