The National Popular Vote movement—a work-around-that-pesky-Constitution way of eliminating the Electoral College—has been progressing apace behind the scenes[i]. It has a particular purpose: give power to Democrats.
In part this means giving power to a few large urban centers, ignoring all the rest. The debate goes back to the Great Compromise between population and state power that led to our bicameral legislature in the Constitution, and to the Electoral College.[ii]
|US 2016 presidential vote by county|
image from here
There were 57 counties in which Clinton won heavily (70%) in 2016.[iii] But there were 30 states out of 50, that Trump won. Trump didn’t win all those remaining counties beyond the 57 (counties aren’t a way votes are counted in a presidential election anyway), but when you exclude those high density urban Democrat strongholds and leave the other 3084 counties in play, Trump won that count by 7.5 million.
We don’t, of course, exclude urban areas. But when you give so much power to those urban areas (occupying only 24.4% of the geography), you severely discount the opinions/votes of people living outside those areas in the remaining 75.6% of the country.
So, should there be a popular vote? Is that fair?
Another question is, is it even possible?
Think back on the 2000 election, when the final decision came down to a few counties in Florida—counties that were already leaning toward Gore and there was no reason to believe they were under-counted, but they were heavy enough in his direction that there might be people there willing to scrape up some more.
So counties suspected of fraud against Gore weren’t recounted; only securely Gore-winning counties were recounted, which included precincts reporting zero votes for Bush, a statistical unlikelihood.
There was evidence that the very existence of a “hanging chad” was cause for concern. The most likely cause was someone taking a stack of that type of ballot and poking a sharp object, such as a straightened paperclip, through a particular hole, pushing through the whole stack. Any votes already for that candidate choice would be left untouched, and would legally count; any votes for an opponent would show up as a possible double vote and be considered invalid. That sharp object through the stack may be the only way to get a chad to only partially let go, leaving a hanging chad or a "pregnant chad" (indented but not punched out). Yet, there we had examiners trying to divine the intent of the voters when they were faced with a hanging chad or pregnant chad—which pretty much never went in favor of the Republican candidate. Hmm.
Meanwhile, there were questionable results in various polling places around the country. But at that point it was decided the possible errors were not enough to change the outcome of the state’s winner, and therefore not changing those states’ electoral votes. So those questionable places were not recounted.
If the popular vote had mattered—something that would also entirely change campaign strategies—a question of voter fraud anywhere would affect the outcome everywhere. In 2012 the difference was about 10 votes per polling place nationwide. I was a poll watcher in a place that was off by 20 that day. I turned in my report, of course. But it wasn’t urgently pursued, because the outcome in the state overall wasn’t in question.
There’s a particular problem with the National Popular Vote movement. It is being adopted only by those states Hillary Clinton won solidly. In other words, it’s an attempt by Democrats to enforce their votes only.
|Electoral College vote 2016 (including faithless electors)|
image from Wikipedia
Don’t believe me? Try this thought experiment. Suppose the NPV movement were to obtain its 270 electoral vote total before the next election—meaning it would kick in for the 2020 election. Then suppose it’s a close election in which Donald Trump wins the popular vote by a small margin, but not the traditional Electoral College vote. Those NPV states are supposedly required by their own law to cast their electors for the popular vote winner. What do they do? If you’re guessing they’re suddenly up in arms about possible voter fraud and refuse to accept the count—or any number of recounts they can force to happen—that’s probable.
Do you see any scenario in which they say, “We really meant it when we said ‘one person one vote,’ and Trump is clearly the winner, because he won the popular vote, so of course our electors all go to him”? I don’t either.
What if Trump were to win the popular vote and the traditionally counted Electoral College vote? Does California give its electors to Trump, or back out of the compact and suddenly insist on the old system in which they at least can say their electors didn’t vote for him? There’s no mechanism in the compact to address electors who refuse to vote according to the NPV compact.
In other words, the only scenario in which they intend to go with the popular vote is when their Democrat candidate gets the popular vote. It isn’t about “fairness.” It’s a rigged game.
Let’s be clear. Rule by the National Popular Vote intentionally and forever disenfranchises voters everywhere except Democrats, who are concentrated in a relative few urban centers.
There are arguments about the legality of the NPV. I’ve heard many opinions, including pro-Constitutionalists, who believe, while it’s a dirty trick, it’s probably legal. But, if it is challenged, it will be for violating Article I, Section 10, which requires that interstate compacts receive congressional consent, which Trent England[iv], legal policy analyst and Director of Save Our States, believes will be its legal downfall. In addition, it could be challenged for ignoring the Electoral College clause, which he says “implies there is some limit on the power of state legislatures to ignore the will of their state’s people.”[v]
That is an important point: will the voters in California actually sit silent if voters in Texas and Oklahoma, for example, determine the winner contrary to California’s voters? This is not the same as feeling disenfranchised because other states’ electors voted differently; this is actually being disenfranchised because enough individual voters in other states change the votes of electors in California contrary to the voters in California.
NPV supporters are only willing to risk it, because they believe it will always fall only in their favor.
This is another case where, if you don’t see the wisdom of the founders, it’s more likely that you’re under-educated than that you’re smarter than they were.
[iii] See the Breitbart article “Donald Trump Won 7.5 Million Popular Vote Landslide in Heartland” and also the Snopes Fact Check article “Did Trump Win 3,084 of 3,141 Counties in 2016, While Clinton Won Only 57?” which doesn’t dispute the Breitbart article, but only some of the math people extracted from it. I used a graphic that used the somewhat distorted county count here. The fact check article does not address the other claims in the graphic, and I have not independently verified them. Those not related to the original error are probably accurate.
[iv] Trent England, director of Save Our States, “The Danger of the Attacks on the Electoral College,” Imprimis, June 2019, Volume 48, Number 6.
[v] William Josephson, in the New York Law Review article “17 Reason Why the National Popular Vote Initiative Is Likely to Fail,” offers his reasons, both legal and practical, that NPV will fair.