The winners of Tuesday’s elections — Republican or Democrat, for governor, mayor or dogcatcher — all have one thing in common: They received more votes than their opponent. That seems like a pretty fair way to run an electoral race, which is why every election in America uses it — except the most important one of all. Was it just a year ago that more than 136 million Americans cast their ballots for president, choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by nearly three million votes, only to be thwarted by a 200-year-old constitutional anachronism designed in part to appease slaveholders and ratified when no one but white male landowners could vote? It feels more like, oh, 17 years — the last time, incidentally, that the American people chose one candidate for president and the Electoral College imposed the other.
The Electoral College is under fresh assault on the heels of Donald Trump’s victory last November—the second time in five presidential races the popularly elected candidate lost the election—but it’s not due to any groundswell in Congress for a constitutional amendment to adopt a national popular vote. Instead, the most viable campaign to change how Americans choose their leader is being waged at booze-soaked junkets in luxury hotels around the country and even abroad, as an obscure entity called the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections peddles a controversial idea: that state legislatures can put the popular-vote winner in the White House.
Fresh off a divisive election season, the Senate on Monday approved legislation adding New Mexico to an interstate compact aimed at guaranteeing the president – in future elections – would be elected by national popular vote. The measure, Senate Bill 42, passed the chamber on a party-line 26-16 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, and now moves on to the House. “By doing our part to move toward a national popular vote, we can begin the process of regaining the voters’ trust in our elections and ensure their voices are equal to every voter across the country,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor. However, several Republican critics of the legislation accused Democrats of pushing the change in response to President Donald Trump’s victory. “Just because we didn’t get our way means we pout and change the entire system,” complained Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell.
A state lawmaker wants Colorado to join the movement to replace the current Electoral College System with one that awards the presidency to the winner of the national popular vote. Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, says legislation is in the works that would allow Colorado to join an interstate popular-vote compact. Kerr says he’s motivated by the recent presidential election results. Republican Donald Trump won with 304 Electoral College votes, even though his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, garnered around 3 million more votes. “My constituents have very loudly let me know that this is something they would like to have happen,” Kerr said. “Quite literally about half of the emails I’ve seen in the past month or so have been about the national popular vote.” Kerr sponsored similar legislation in 2009 when he was a member of the state House of Representatives. That bill passed the House, but died in the Senate.
Some Arizona lawmakers want the state to change how their electoral delegates vote for the president. If they’re successful, Arizona would be the first Republican-leaning state to back electing presidents through a country-wide popular vote. Arizona Public Radio’s Justin Regan reports. The National Popular Vote Compact is a coalition of 10 states and the District of Columbia. They include California, New York and Illinois – states that traditionally back Democrats and went blue in the last election. The goal of the pact is to accumulate 270 votes – enough to elect a president – among the members during an election. Officials in those states would then order their electoral delegates to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.
A state House panel on Monday approved a measure that, had it been in effect in 2000, would have meant Al Gore becoming president. The legislation is designed to do an end run around the Electoral College system, which has been in place since the United States was formed. The system assigns electoral votes to each state based on the number of congressional seats. More to the point, the president is elected only when a candidate gets at least half of the 538 votes, regardless of who got more popular votes nationally. Nothing in Arizona’s HB 2456 would change that. Instead, the proposal by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would require the state to enter into deals with other states: Once there is agreement by states totaling 270 electoral votes, each would require its electors to cast their vote for whoever wins the national popular vote.
The Nebraska Legislature’s Government Committee tabled for this year a bill to enter Nebraska into the “National Popular Vote Compact.” For this, Nebraskans should be happy. However, this is the second year it has arisen so the chances of it coming back are good. The compact is being pushed on states by an extremely well-financed lobbying effort centered in northern California. Here’s how it would work. Once states controlling 270 dlectoral votes (the number needed to win the presidency) pass a bill to join the compact, the compact states all agree to throw their electors to the ticket that won the national popular vote, regardless of how their state voted. So for instance, in the 2012 election, had the compact been in effect and included Nebraska, Nebraska’s five electoral votes would have gone to President Obama even though Mitt Romney carried Nebraska.
Based on the big elections in Virginia in recent years, the Old Dominion is turning reliably blue: victories by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, two Senate wins by Democrats in two years, and Terry McAuliffe’s triumph in between. So how is it that Republicans have a stranglehold on the state’s congressional delegation, holding eight seats to Democrats’ three? That question is at the heart of a legal battle over whether Republicans have improperly leveraged their power over the redistricting process. The outcome could have far-reaching implications because the contours of congressional districts drawn by Republican-controlled legislatures are seen as a driving reason why Democrats may be locked in the House minority until at least after the next census in 2020. In Virginia, Democrats are hoping to redraw the lines to make some GOP districts more competitive after a panel of federal judges ruled recently that the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to pack African-American voters into the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, was motivated purely by race — a violation of the 14th Amendment. Other battleground states such as North Carolina and Florida also have redistricting battles pending.
Editorials: We need a fairer system for choosing House members | Katrina van den Heuvel/The Washington Post
In the original conception of our Constitution, the House of Representatives was to be the branch of government that best reflected the will of the people. House members cannot serve without being elected — vacancies are not filled by appointees — and they must face the voters every two years. Notably, the House holds pride of place as the first branch of government to be described in the Constitution. The framers move directly from “We the People” to the House, underlining the notion that, for our Constitution (and our government) to function, representatives must be accountable to the people. Unfortunately, as we near the 2014 midterm elections, the reality of House races today clashes with that goal. Let’s start with the connection between votes and seats. In 2012, we faced a major choice between the major parties and a mandate on President Obama’s first term. In the presidential race, Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the national popular vote by almost three percentage points, and Republicans suffered the worst performance in Senate elections by any major party in a half-century.
The movement to change how presidents are elected is gaining steam and proponents of the long-stalled popular vote initiative are predicting victory by 2020. Eleven states/jurisdictions have enacted the National Popular Vote (NPV) bill, giving the proposal 165 electoral votes — 61 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to trigger the new voting system. Legislatures that passed the law include California, Illinois, New Jersey. Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a popular vote bill into law last week. All of these states, as well as the nation’s capital are liberal leaning, but activists note they are making progress in red states, such as Oklahoma and Nebraska. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush lost the popular vote and won the presidency. At the time, Democrats rallied behind the popular vote idea. The memory of that contested election has made many Democrats eager to jump on board, and some Republicans skeptical.
One of the most pernicious outcomes of the intense political struggle between Democrats and Republicans is the parties’ breathtaking capacity to game our voting rules. Nothing makes voters more cynical than seeing political leaders seemingly supporting or opposing election laws based solely on their partisan impact — from redistricting reform to fights over whether to allow early voting. But a reform win in New York could foreshadow a cease-fire in the voting wars. On April 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation making New York the 10th state to pass the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact for president. Overwhelming majorities of both Republicans and Democrats approved the bill, which seeks to guarantee election of the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We don’t need a constitutional amendment to achieve this goal. The Constitution gives each state power over how to allocate its electoral votes and the ability to enter into binding interstate compacts. The Founding Fathers gave states freedom to structure how to select the president — and national popular vote embodies that tradition.
President Obama said on Friday that he would make voting rights a priority. But given that Congress can barely get around to naming post offices anymore, D.C.-led progress seems unlikely. There is, however, a plan to make voting more fair—at least in presidential elections—which would require no action from the capital: The National Popular Vote compact. As Eleanor Randolph explained recently, state signatories agree to give their electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote so long as enough other states, with a combined 270 electoral votes, pledge to do the same.
The Empire State has joined the National Popular Vote compact with legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. States that have signed on to the interstate agreement will award electoral votes for president to the candidate who receives the majority of the national popular vote. “With the passage of this legislation, New York is taking a bold step to fundamentally increase the strength and fairness of our nation’s presidential elections,” said Cuomo. “By aligning the Electoral College with the voice of the nation’s voters, we are ensuring the equality of the votes and encouraging candidates to appeal to voters in all states, instead of disproportionately focusing on early contests and swing states.”
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.
Maine: Senate gives early nod to bill to dump Electoral College in favor of directly electing president | Bangor Daily News
By a 1-vote margin the Maine Senate Tuesday supported a bill that would move the Pine Tree State away from the Electoral College system when it comes to selecting a winning presidential candidate here. In an initial 17-16 vote the Senate approved LD 511, a bill that would allow Maine to join a compact of states in allowing the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states to be elected president. The current system depends on a complicated process, that can vary from state to state and which allows a candidate who may not have received the largest number of votes to be elected president. Lawmakers favoring the bill said it was long overdue and is an attempt at restoring value to the votes of individuals. “This bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes,” said Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford. Tuttle said the measure is meant to bolster the the principle of “one man, one vote.”
The New York Legislature approved a bill tonight that would award the state’s presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote, if enough states agree to do the same. Both the Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure that would allow the state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which seeks to circumvent the Electoral College. With New York’s 29 electors, the interstate compact would have 160 electors, or the 60 percent of the 270 it needs to take effect. The bill has been teetering between the chambers for years, and this is the first year it has passed both chambers. The bill now returns to the Senate, and requires the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has not taken a public position on the legislation.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, endorsed legislation Monday that would have Connecticut join an interstate compact committing the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The governor’s office announced the support of Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman as the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee held a public hearing on the bill. The legislation is a House bill, so a more immediate hurdle to reach the floor after it clears the committee is an endorsement from House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. He has said he would schedule a vote on the bill if sought by his caucus. “I fully support a national popular vote for President. All Americans deserve to have their votes counted equally for the highest office in the country,” Malloy said. “Connecticut should join the nine other states and the District of Columbia in taking this important step. The candidate who wins the most votes should be president.”
A state senator wants Nebraska to join a movement to elect the president of the United States by popular vote instead of using the current system of tallying electoral votes. Sen. John Murante of Gretna introduced the idea (LB1058) Wednesday to the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Murante and the group National Popular Vote point out that in the 2012 presidential race, the candidates spent their time in states with large numbers of electoral votes to offer. President Barack Obama campaigned in just eight states after securing the Democratic nomination. Republican Gov. Mitt Romney did so in only 10 states. “I think there is one thing that most of us could agree upon: the system by which we as a nation choose our president is broken, not just for us but for the entire country,” Murante said. “Far too much attention is placed upon the so-called ‘Battleground States,’ allowing those few states to wield substantial political power. This in turn has significant policy implications, as both political parties seek to curry favor with the narrow interests of Battleground State voters while the interests of Nebraskans and voters in other non-Battleground States are too often ignored.”
Let’s start with the basics: In presidential races, each state has electoral votes equal to the number of its House representatives plus two for its senators. Currently, there are 435 House members and 100 senators, plus three votes for Washington, D.C. (thanks to the 23rd Amendment), for a total of 538. The candidate who garners a majority — 270 or more — wins, even if he loses the popular vote. That’s what happened in the 2000 Bush versus Gore election, which sparked the effort to switch to popular voting for presidential elections. Ordinarily, that switch would require a constitutional amendment; but a group of activists came up with a scheme — the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) — that could work without a constitutional amendment. Article II of the Constitution gives states broad authority to decide how their electoral votes are selected and divided among the candidates. In 48 states, the candidate who gets the most votes wins all of the state’s electoral votes. But the Constitution doesn’t require that rule. Maine and Nebraska have implemented district- by-district voting. One electoral vote goes to the winner in each congressional district, and the remaining two electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote.
Now that the 2012 election is in the rear-view mirror and the 2016 election is still somewhat distant on the horizon, this is an appropriate time to return to the question of presidential election reform. As I have written about many times (including here) on this and other websites, and in academic journals, one important and prominent reform effort, known as the National Popular Vote (NPV) Compact, seeks to move the country in the direction of making it ever more likely that the President who is elected is the candidate who obtains the most voter support nationwide. The essential idea (elaborated by me, my brother Akhil Amar and, independently also by Professor Robert Bennett over a decade ago) is to get various states to sign onto an agreement that would require each signatory state to cast its electoral college votes not for the candidate who garners a plurality of popular votes in that state, but rather for the candidate who wins the most popular votes nationally.
A Minnesota House panel has advanced a batch of election law changes that for now has some bipartisan support. The bill includes no-excuse absentee voting, higher thresholds for triggering taxpayer-funded recounts, tighter controls over felon voting rights and a reduction in Election Day vouching. It would allow one voter to vouch for a maximum of eight people, down from the current limit of 15. The bill also links the state’s electoral votes for president to the national popular vote winner. The House Elections Committee approved the omnibus bill today on a mostly favorable voice vote, sending it on to the Government Operations Committee.
GOP efforts to rig the Electoral College in favor of GOP presidential candidates may be close to dead, but a group of Republicans are hard at work at another plot to blow up the system: switch to the popular vote. Although more closely associated with progressive circles in recent years, the idea has a number of conservative activists behind it as well. And there are signs it’s gaining momentum. “I think there’s a growing consensus that the winner-take-all system we’re currently under is a problem, that it’s not representative, that only a small number of states benefit, and that it needs to be changed,” Saul Anuzis, a Republican national committeeman from Michigan who advocates on behalf of the nonpartisan National Popular Vote group, told TPM. The plan, as espoused by groups like NPV, is to lobby states to pass binding legislation pledging their entire slate of electors to whichever candidate wins the most votes nationwide. The bills would only take effect once enough states join in to provide a guaranteed majority in the Electoral College — 270 votes — in order to prevent individual legislatures from trying to game the system unilaterally.
Editorials: Republican plans for Electoral College reform: Democrats shouldn’t worry about the GOP’s ideas for changing voting rules in Virginia, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania | Slate Magazine
Sound the alarm! Democrats are on high alert! Josh Marshall calls it a big, big deal. Eric Kleefeld says if the blueprint were in place last November, the GOP would have “stolen 2012 for Mitt Romney.” Steve Benen of the Maddow Blog calls it a “democracy-crushing scheme” showing that “the will of the voters and the consent of the governed are now antiquated concepts that Republicans no longer value.” They’re all talking about potential plans to change the method for electing the president in states like Virginia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—states that have Republican legislatures and governors but voted for Obama in 2012. Instead of awarding all of the state’s Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate getting the most votes in each of these states, under the proposed plans most of the Electoral College votes would be awarded to the winner in each congressional district—and thanks to Republican gerrymandering of those districts, such a scheme would be a windfall for Republicans. This plan would be deeply concerning if Republicans were really going to enact it. But the same self-interest that is leading Republicans to consider this move is also going to lead most of them to abandon it almost everywhere. The Great Democratic Freak-out is unjustified. But it is not without its usefulness, because it reminds wavering Republicans what they will face if they go down the road of unilateral Electoral College reform.
Virginia: Group Working To End Electoral College Condemns GOP’s ‘Indefensible’ Virginia Scheme | TPM
FairVote, a non-partisan advocacy group, wants to radically transform the Electoral College through state legislation. So do Virginia Republicans pushing a scheme to reapportion their electoral votes by Congressional district. But the similarities end there as FairVote is condemning the Virginia bill as a partisan perversion of their own mission. FairVote executive director Rob Richie described the Virginia plan as “an incredibly unfair and indefensible proposal” to TPM and said he was drafting a message to supporters rallying against its passage. He testified against a similar proposal in Pennsylvania, whose lawmakers briefly considered splitting its electoral votes for the 2012 election before backing down amid a public outcry against the maneuver.
One third of Americans vote on machines, without the paper ballots we use in Connecticut. Our president is chosen based on faith in those unverifiable machines, vote accounting, and unequal enfranchisement in 50 independent states and the District of Columbia. In 2000, we witnessed the precarious underpinnings of this state-by-state voting system combined with the flawed mechanism of the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Accounting Act. The Supreme Court ruled votes could not be recounted in Florida, because even that single state did not have uniform recount procedures. What could possibly make this system riskier? The National Popular Vote Compact now being considered in states, including Connecticut, would have such states award their electoral votes to a purported national popular vote winner. The Compact would take effect once enough states signed on, equaling more than one-half the Electoral College. Then the President elected would be the one with the most purported popular votes. Sounds good and fair at first glance. Looking at the touted benefits and none of the risks many legislators, advocates, and media influence the public to make the Compact popular in some polls. Popular is not always prudent. Voting requires vigilance.
It looks like Republicans may keep the Electoral College alive and well. I wrote in November about the momentum of the National Popular Vote movement, which aims to sidestep the Electoral College by having states agree to give all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote nationwide. The intent is to make sure the Electoral College can no longer seat presidents who haven’t won the popular vote, a phenomenon that’s occurred four times. So far, eight states – including California – and the District of Columbia have signed the compact, which would kick in when states with a combined total of 270 electoral votes have agreed to the plan.
On the same day Minnesota’s presidential electors will ceremonially cast their votes for President Barack Obama, a bipartisan bunch of Minnesota lawmakers proposed exchanging the power of the Electoral College and making the national popular vote supreme. The new system, backed by a diverse group of legislators, would give weight to the number of actual votes presidential candidates get, rather than just number of Electoral College votes, in presidential elections. A diverse group of Minnesota backers say it would mean every vote would have equal value during presidential campaigns, removing the candidates’ incentive to focus primarily on the handful swing states. “Everyone understands that places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, swing states, this is a really good process for them right now. Unfortunately, the rest of the country gets hosed,” backer Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said Monday.
Michigan: Republican Spokesman: Splitting Up Electoral College Votes Would Prevent Detroit Voters From “Distorting” Results | Slate
In the last few weeks, a small number of Republican legislators — all in states that voted for Barack Obama — have talked about splitting up their electoral votes. When I wrote about this, I got a few comments along the lines of “hey, is this a trend, or are you scaremongering?” No. It’s a trend. Reid Wilson reports that Wisconsin, along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, is home to Republicans who might press their gerrymandered legislative advantage to assign electoral votes by gerrymandered congressional districts. “If you did the calculation, you’d see a massive shift of electoral votes in states that are blue and fully [in] red control,” said one senior Republican taking an active role in pushing the proposal. “There’s no kind of autopsy and outreach that can grab us those electoral votes that quickly.”
Voting Blogs: Pennsylvania Senate Leader Pileggi Wrong on Prescription for Electoral College Reform | FairVote
Hot off the presses from Bloomberg News is a major Electoral College development. Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has circulated a letter to his legislative colleagues seeking support for a bill to replace the winner-take-all allocation of his state’s Electoral College votes with one based on proportional representation – with two electoral votes going to the winner of the state and 18 votes allocated proportionally. The proposal is sure to trigger an intense partisan reaction. Pennsylvania Republicans often come close in presidential elections, but last won an electoral vote in 1988 when George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Yet if Sen. Pileggi’s plan had been in place this year, President Barack Obama’s 5.4% win in the statewide popular vote would have translated into his earning 12 electoral votes rather than 20, while Gov. Mitt Romney would have won eight electoral votes rather than zero. Shifting eight electoral votes in Pennsylvania would have provided a bigger boost to Romney than switching the outcome in Iowa.
I was on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes” yesterday doing my Ancient Mariner harangue in favor of the National Popular Vote, along with Yale’s Akhil Reed Amar, one of the intellectual fathers of that ingenious plan, which would allow us to elect our Presidents the same way we elect governors and senators and everybody else, i.e., the candidate with the most votes wins—and would do it without messing with the Constitution. You can watch the relevant three segments. (One follows another, with unavoidable commercials.) Akhil and I managed to squeeze in most of our arguments, but right at the end Chris brought up a question we didn’t have time to fully answer: What about recounts? What if Florida 2000 were reproduced on a national scale?