by John R. Koza
The state-based winner-take-all system no longer serves the citizens of the country and we must act to reform it now.
The fact that it appears the winner of the 2016 election, Donald Trump, was not supported by a majority of voters dictates that we elect our next president by popular vote. We can no longer endure presidential elections that primarily focus on the issues and outcomes in a shrinking number of battleground states, while the rest of us feel marginalized and muted in the political process.
The reason five of our nation’s 45 incoming presidents have entered office after losing the national popular vote is that most states have winner-take-all laws that award all the state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in that state.
Given that the average national popular vote has been close in the last eight presidential elections (an average margin of less than 5%), it is likely that the nation will continue to experience elections in which the president wins the electoral college, but loses the nationwide popular vote.
These same state winner-take-all laws force presidential candidates to focus 94% of their general-election campaign events in 12 closely divided “battleground” states – with the remaining states receiving little or no attention. In 2012, they concentrated all of their campaign events in 12 states. As presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker publicly observed a year ago: “The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are.”
When presidential candidates devote virtually all of their attention to 12 states (representing just 30% of the nation’s voters), it is not just about TV advertising and rallies. It has a real impact on public policy. Battleground states receive 7% more presidentially controlled grants, twice as many disaster declarations, considerably more Superfund and No Child Left Behind exemptions, and benefit from many other major presidential policy decisions. For example, in 2016, both party’s nominees catered to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania on the issue of trade treaties.
Former presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “If people don’t like it, they can move from a safe state to a swing state.”
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers provided us with a better way to improve the system than mass migration. Article II, section I of the US constitution empowers state legislatures to change their method of awarding electoral votes. National Popular Vote asks the legislatures if they want to join together as states to make every vote matter throughout the country.
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This interstate compact will go into effect after it is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough to elect a president (270 of 538). Under this system, the compacting states award all of their electoral votes (in block) to the candidate who received the most popular votes in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia). This guarantees the presidency to the national popular vote winner and makes every voter, in every state, politically relevant in every presidential election.
Eleven states possessing 165 electoral votes have already enacted the National Popular Vote bill into law. In addition, the bill has made significant progress by passing one legislative chamber in 12 additional states with 96 electoral votes. The bill was recently approved by a bipartisan 40-16 vote in the Republican-controlled Arizona house, a 28-18 vote in the Republican-controlled Oklahoma senate, a 37-21 vote in the Democratic-controlled Oregon House, and unanimously by legislative committees in Georgia and Missouri. A total of 2,794 state legislators have endorsed it.
The National Popular Vote bill offers the additional benefit of preventing a presidential election from being thrown into the US House of Representatives.
We cannot expect a system that makes every voter happy with the end result of every election. We can, however, demand a system where all citizens feel that their vote mattered and voice was heard. National Popular Vote will deliver this promise in every presidential election.
John R. Koza is the founder of National Popular Vote. A plurality of voters in Connecticut and in the United States voted for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Connecticut’s legislature considered, but did not approve, legislation proposed by National Popular Vote in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2009. The Connecticut House, but not the State Senate, approved NPV legislation in 2009, the same year that a statewide poll indicated that three-quarters of state residents were of the view that the presidential candidate receiving the most votes nationwide should be elected president. This article first appeared in The Guardian.