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Roundabout Reforms: Understanding The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
12/09/2016 Election Andrew S
keywords: Legislation Politics voting

Love it or hate it, there is little about the American political system that is more controversial than the Electoral College. In this system, presidential candidates receive all the electors from each state* where they win a majority. In some elections, including the most recent one, the winner of the national popular vote has thus lost the presidency. Some view this as a valuable way to protect states' interests, but for those who see the Electoral College as undemocratic, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact may be the solution:

Constructing A Compact

Many assume that abolishing the Electoral College requires a constitutional amendment, which will not pass unless two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures approve it. The Compact, however, would effectively eliminate it without technically altering the constitution. States that have signed the Compact agree that once it goes into effect, all their electoral votes will go to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, rather than the popular vote in those states. Once enough states have signed that their total number of electoral votes is 270, anyone who wins the popular vote will automatically get enough electors to become president. The compact does not go into effect until enough states sign to guarantee a presidential win; this ensures that signatories remain relevant in presidential elections prior to that point.

Obstacles & Opportunities

So far, only 11 states, with a total of 165 electoral votes, have signed the compact; an additional 105 electors are necessary for it to go into effect. All of the signatories thus far have been solidly Democratic states. Swing states are unlikely to sign the Compact, as the Electoral College gives them more power than they would otherwise have, so the key to its success lies in winning over solidly Republican states. This may be difficult to do in the short run, as Republicans benefited the last two times there was a popular vote-electoral college split. But they might warm to the idea, especially if a Democrat ends up becoming president without the popular vote in a future election.

Besides needing to win over other states, the Compact may face legal and Congressional challenges. According to the Constitution, Congress must sign off on agreements that individual states make with each other, though there is some ambiguity over which agreements this applies to. If Congress does not approve the Compact, there may be a lengthy legal battle over the nuances of State and Federal power.


*Except in Maine and Nebraska

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