Political author Tara Ross of the organization Save Our States recently wrote a column urging Rhode Island Lawmakers to reject the National Popular Vote Initiative. However, Ms. Ross’ article is based on the faulty premise that the Plan “could lead to the effective elimination of the Electoral College.”
The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently 8 states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.
Despite Tara Ross’ assertion to the contrary, the Electoral College will still exist under the Plan. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December after the Presidential election is held, electors representing each state and the District of Columbia will still cast their Presidential ballots. On January 6, the Vice President will declare the winner to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This is the process done now, and this is what will be done after the National Popular Vote Plan has been adopted by enough states to take effect.
What the Plan will eliminate is the winner-take-all regime currently employed in 48 states. Because the winner-take-all system has been with us for such a long time, some mistakenly interchange it with the Electoral College. The nation’s Founding Fathers did not design or even envisage the electoral system with a winner-take-all voting process. In fact, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia of 1787, there was a deadlock as to how the President should be chosen. There were proposals for a direct election of the President, to have the U.S. Congress select the President, and to let the State Legislatures choose the President. Failing to come to an agreement, the conventioneers agreed to grant the states plenary authority to chose their electors.
Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” In 1789, the year of the first Presidential election, voters of only five states were permitted to mark ballots for Presidential electors. The other states granted the power of voting for Presidential electors to the state legislatures. In fact, New York did not even appoint electors because their legislature was stalemated over the issue.
States have changed their method of awarding electoral votes over time. In fact, Massachusetts has altered its method 11 times. Maine in 1969 and Nebraska in 1992 supplanted the winner-take-all system with the Congressional Allocation Method.
The winner-take-all approach of awarding electors was a scheme devised by partisan parochial interests to maximize their political advantage. It was not the grand design of the Founding Fathers. In fact, there is no mention at all of the winner-take-all system in the Federalist Papers and no mention of it at the Constitutional Convention.
Ms. Ross also argues that the National Popular Vote Plan would not amplify Rhode Island’s voice in presidential elections. This argument is very hard to fathom. Currently, the Ocean State garners absolutely no attention from Presidential nominees because of its allegiance to the Democratic Party. In fact, believe it or not, the last Presidential nominee to visit the state was Richard M. Nixon in 1960. The only reason Nixon visited the states was because of his campaign promise to visit all 50 states.
Under the National Popular Vote Plan, every single vote throughout the nation will be in play. No voter will be ignored because of his or her disadvantageous geopolitical residence. Presidential campaigns will have one goal: to muster as many votes as possible. Under the current status quo, there is no electoral incentive for a candidate to pay any attention at all to Rhode Island’s commercial fishermen, to its manufacturing industry, or the state’s Agricultural output.
Under the National Popular Vote Plan, Presidential candidates will have causes belie to address these Rhode Island-centered issues. They will have an electoral incentive to open campaign offices in Rhode Island, send surrogates to address Rhode Islanders, and cultivate, consolidate and galvanize their political bases. Candidates would spend their campaign war chests not just within the 15 or so showdown states, but would likely spend money throughout the nation, including in Rhode Island.
Finally, Ross tries to make the argument that Rhode Island should not take the advice of a group founded and headquartered in the nation’s largest state, California. Would the situation be any different if the National Popular Vote headquarters were in Delaware or Utah of Vermont? The National Popular Vote Plan has a cavalcade of bipartisan supporters in all 50 states. That being said, California and Rhode Island have an important and common interest in supporting the Plan. Both states are currently relegated to the electoral sidelines, and Candidates have no electoral incentive to address issues specifically pertaining to these two states. In fact, both large and small states will benefit from the implementation of the Plan. In the last Presidential election, the three largest states were used merely as ATM machines for candidates, while New Hampshire was the only state of the 13 smallest states to even receive campaign visits from the candidates. The Granite States was the only competitive state in the bunch.
In summary, the National Popular Vote Plan does not eliminate the Electoral College and is the best way to give Rhode Islanders a voice at the Presidential table. This is not some revolutionary radical concept. A vote cast in Jamestown, Rhode Island would simply be commensurate with a vote cast in Jamestown, Virginia. Presidential candidates would seek every vote, and every vote would count.