Understanding The National Popular Vote Movement

If you've ever wondered why the presidential election is decided state-by-state instead of by popular vote, you're not alone. The Electoral College was originally intended as a safety measure by founders who did not trust direct democracy, but many believe that America would do better without it. Hence, there was the creation of the National Popular Vote movement to select presidents by the popular vote, rather than through the Electoral College.

In many ways, it's an understandable argument. A given American's experience with political campaigning is totally dependent on his or her state. A Floridian or an Ohioan likely sees a barrage of political ads throughout the campaign season, while a New Yorker sees very few, because the state and its electoral votes are often viewed as a sure thing for Democrats. Moreover, it seems sort of inherently undemocratic to consider situations in which the majority (or plurality) of Americans voted to elect one candidate but the other won, because his voters were from different states. This has actually happened four times in American history, most recently in 2000, when there was significant outcry against the election process when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush.

The National Popular Vote Plan (NPV) is a proposed interstate compact that asks that states automatically delegate their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. It would take effect if 270 electoral votes' worth of states (including D.C.) agreed to the compact.

The NPV has already been ratified in 10 states and Washington D.C., adding up to 165 electoral votes. Many of the states that have endorsed it have a large number of electoral votes and lean Democrat, including California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, though FairVote, the organization behind the proposal, indicates that it identifies as non-partisan.

If the popular vote elected the president, the election's outcome would usually remain unchanged from what it would be under the current system. However, presidential campaigning could change dramatically and instantly. Without a focus on swing states, candidates would be able to target voters on a national level, perhaps by focusing on the demographics that tend to support their parties. Ad buys would be national in scope or targeted at major media markets like New York City and Los Angeles, regardless of state.

In a few weeks, America might elect its first female president, a landmark achievement for generations of feminists. In many ways, the abolition of the Electoral College would be an equally significant departure from tradition.