Every Vote in Every Election
JOHN WOOLLEY: Governor Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in March signed a bill that could redefine how his state would distribute its electoral votes for president: The state will join a nationwide movement to allocate electoral votes according to the winner of the national popular vote.
The bill makes Colorado the most recent in a group of 12 states and the District of Columbia to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement, should enough states ratify it, would fundamentally change the nature of presidential elections.
The United States, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, currently selects its president through the Electoral College. This institution awards each state a number of electoral votes proportional to its congressional representation, then allows the state to decide how to allocates those votes in response to election results. In the vast majority of states, this allocation process is quite simple: the presidential candidate that receives the majority of the votes in the state is awarded all of the state’s electoral votes. Regardless of whether or not a candidate wins by a landslide or by one vote, the winner-takes-all system mandates that the candidate who wins the plurality of ballots wins the entire state.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact seeks to change that selection system. Rather than having a state award its electoral votes to the winner of the state itself, the legislation instead mandates that these votes be awarded to whichever candidate wins the most votes nationwide. Therefore, if enough states enter the agreement, then suddenly the dynamic of presidential elections fundamentally shifts.
Where the old system resulted in candidates focusing only on “battleground” or “swing” states like Florida or Ohio, the national popular vote would instead force candidates to vie for ballots in every state. Republicans in California and Connecticut, Democrats in Texas and Kentucky, all would suddenly be politically relevant. Presidential candidates would visit every state in search of support, rather than bounce between a small few and hyperfocus their campaign on geography rather than policy. Furthermore, such a system would prevent a candidate getting elected without winning the popular vote, as has happened in two of the five presidential elections in my lifetime.
Thanks in part to President Donald Trump, who himself was one of those two candidates who ascended to the office without a popular mandate, the national popular vote movement has gained significant momentum in recent years. Colorado’s passage of the compact bring the total number of signed-on electoral votes to 181, or two-thirds of the way to the 270 votes needed before it takes effect, but it also represents the first time that a swing state has ratified the agreement. Additionally, concerns with the Electoral College have found their way into the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. Elizabeth Warren garnered national headlines after she announced that she supported abolishing the Electoral College during a town hall in Jackson, Mississippi.
Ultimately, this should not be some divisive partisan issue. The current election system, at its core, has a glaring democratic deficit. The votes of millions of people do not count simply because of where they live. As a result, our leaders do not have to listen to millions of their constituents, all because of where they live. This makes our elected officials less accountable and less qualified to speak for the whole polity. All because of how people are distributed on a map.
Every vote should count, in every election. The national popular vote can achieve that.
John Woolley is an aspiring journalist, musician, and a staff writer for On the Record. He studies government in the College and is looking to pursue a career in politics.