With legislation signed by New York's governor on Tuesday, April 15, the state became the 10th (plus D.C.) to sign onto a compact calling for the national popular vote for president.
This was a significant development for supporters of the national popular vote, in which the president would be elected by a majority of the voters in the nation, not a majority of voters in the Electoral College -- which, as you readers know, has been set up such that the majority vote-getter in 48 of the 50 states receives all that state's electoral votes.
Each state has the right, afforded by the U.S. Constitution, to decide how its electoral votes are distributed. With New York joining two days ago, 165 electoral votes have signed onto the compact. (Washington is one of the other nine states.) As explained by New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg and Rob Richie of the nonpartisan organization FairVote, the nation could switch to a majority popular vote for president if enough additional states sign on to the compact to total 270 electoral votes. (I'll leave it to Hertzberg and/or Richie to suss out the details for you.)
Hertzberg's analysis and Richie's opinion piece both argue that changing to a national popular vote would be good for Washington and the majority of states like us, where the outcome of the presidential vote within the state's boundaries is a "foregone conclusion."
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For the last few presidential cycles, more than 98 percent of general election campaign spending and campaign events bombarded only 12 states. Meanwhile, at least 35 states — small and large, Eastern and Western, Democratic and Republican — received less than one-hundredth of a percent of the attention they would likely receive under a national popular vote for president.
N.P.V. is a good idea for all sorts of high-minded civic reasons. When an election is for a single office and only one candidate can win, it’s obviously outrageous when the candidate who gets more votes somehow loses to the one who gets fewer. But that doesn't happen very often — "only" four of our 39 elected presidents, including "only" one of the two most recent, made it to the White House despite the citizenry’s preference for somebody else. What's more outrageous is what happens every time: four-fifths of the states are ignored in the general election.
If you live in one of those states, you see neither hide nor hair of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees, scarcely even in television commercials. Grassroots politics does not exist in your state as far as the presidential campaign is concerned, because there’s no point in ringing your neighbors’ doorbells if the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. The relative power of money vs. people is magnified, because while campaign cash is raised everywhere, including your state, it gets funnelled exclusively into places like Ohio and Florida. And, between elections, states like yours get measurably less federal attention and federal money, per capita, than is lavished on the swingin’ few.
California, the state with the most electoral votes, has already signed the compact. This is a departure from where at least a faction of the state was in 2008 and 2012. In both presidential election years, an initiative effort was begun to essentially make California, with its 55 electoral votes, like Nebraska and Maine -- votes would be divided up among the presidential candidates according to who won each congressional district. This method has hardly impacted the counts in Maine and Nebraska (all EC votes went to one presidential candidate in every election except 2008, when Nebraska had 1 EC vote for Barack Obama). But if California adopted EC voting by congressional district, it would be a significant win for Republicans, as all of the state's votes are given to the Democratic candidate practically as a matter of course. In both 2008 and 2012, the "California Electoral College Reform Act" (as it was known in 2012) failed to make the ballot.