For the second time in 20 years, the state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes has created avoidable uncertainty and chaos in a presidential election.
On Election Night, one candidate won the national popular vote by several million votes. So, what public purpose is served by even asking which presidential candidate got slightly more votes in one or two states?
Voters, not lawyers and judges, should decide who becomes president. The current chaos is created by the fact that a change of 24,000 votes in three states could change the outcome of the election. Given the closeness of those votes, it makes sense for lawyers to make hairsplitting arguments about arcane questions of election law to judges. Those arguments could change the outcome of the election. Hence the chaos and uncertainty.
In 2000, it took 31 days to learn that George W. Bush received 537 more popular votes in one state while losing the national popular vote by 537,179 votes. Each of these 537 votes was 1,000 times more important than Al Gore’s nationwide lead of 537,179 votes.
If the nationwide popular vote had decided the presidency, there would have been no lawyers, no courts, no uncertainty, no delay, and no controversy in the first place.
2020 is only the most recent situation in which the “winner take all laws” have, or could have, created uncertainty and chaos. In 2004, a shift of fewer than 60,000 votes in Ohio would have defeated President George W. Bush, despite his nationwide lead of 3 million votes. A shift of 9,246 votes from Carter in 1976, 12,487 votes from Harry Truman in 1948, and 1,711 votes from Woodrow Wilson in 1916 would have elected the second-place candidate.
The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is often criticized because the candidate getting the most votes nationwide doesn’t become president; because every vote is not equal; and because candidates seek votes in only a dozen or so closely divided battleground states. However, an even more serious flaw may be its propensity to create unnecessary and avoidable crises.
The presidency is too important to leave it to avoidable chaos. We elect every other elected official with a popular vote. Why not president?
The National Popular Vote compact will guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact will take effect when enacted by states with enough electoral votes (270 of 538) to determine the outcome of the presidential election. After the compact takes effect, the presidential candidate supported by the most voters in all 50 states and DC will receive all the electoral votes of all the enacting states.
The U.S. Constitution (Article II) gives states exclusive control over awarding their electoral votes: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors …” The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution. It was not debated at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It was not mentioned in the Federalist Papers. It is purely state law, and state laws may be changed the same way as they were originally enacted – namely by action of the state legislature.
The National Popular Vote compact has a total of 196 electoral votes from 15 states and the District of Columbia. Colorado voters just demonstrated, by approving the Compact in a referendum there, that the National Popular Vote law is popular with the voters as well as the state legislators. The compact has already passed at least one legislative chamber in nine additional states possessing 88 electoral votes including Arkansas, Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia.
There have been many elections in which North Carolina voters have been ignored, just like voters are in 35 to 40 other states. In 2012, North Carolina received virtually no attention at all, only three of over 250 presidential campaign events. The rule for North Carolina over the last 50 years has been to ignore its voters for the voters in Ohio, Iowa, and Florida.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is good for North Carolina voters. As important, passing the National Popular Vote bill in North Carolina brings the entire country closer to making every vote in every state count equally in every future presidential election. If you believe the nationwide popular vote winner should be the winner in future presidential elections, please ask your state lawmakers to support the National Popular Vote bill.
Senator Ray Haynes was a Republican member of the California State Legislature from 1992 to 2006, serving as Republican Whip and Chair of the Senate Constitutional Amendments Committee. He was National Chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization of conservative state legislators. He is currently a senior consultant for the National Popular Vote movement.