People For the American Way

Why We Need the National Popular Vote

News and Analysis
Why We Need the National Popular Vote

People For the American Way believes there are many steps we can take to move our country closer to the ideal of a democratic society that offers freedom, equality, opportunity and justice for all. The concept of “one person, one vote” is at the heart of our democracy. But our current Electoral College system doesn’t work that way. In two of our last six elections, the person who won the most votes did not become president. The National Popular Vote will help fix this.

What Is the National Popular Vote?

The state-based National Popular Vote campaign is a lot like it sounds: a change to electing presidents based on the total number of votes cast.

It doesn’t do away with the Electoral College. But it would change the current “winner take all” laws, in which all of a state’s Electoral College votes go to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in that state. Under these rules, presidential candidates who don’t come in first in a state get no votes at all in the Electoral College, which can result in a disproportionate number of Electoral Votes being awarded to a candidate who won fewer actual votes nationwide.

This is how candidates can win the popular vote – but lose the presidency. Forty-eight states have these “winner take all” laws that award all Electoral Votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote. Under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) states would agree to award all of their Electoral Votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote, rather than state by state, to ensure that whoever becomes president actually won more votes overall.

Why Do We Need the National Popular Vote Now?

Since losing the 2020 election, Donald Trump has spread the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from him. He has tried to convince Americans that the election was rigged against him and that there was widespread fraud. There’s no evidence of this. But his arguments play into the uncertainty many Americans have about our Electoral College system, which is outdated and confusing. Not only that, there is evidence that Trump’s campaign tried to cheat by naming phony electors in states he lost.

Unfortunately, the current Electoral College system can allow presidential candidates to lose the popular vote, but win the White House. This has happened for 5 out of 46 presidents in our history. In 2016, Donald Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by 3 million. In 2020, when Joe Biden passed the threshold of more votes cast than had been cast for any candidate in U.S. history — clearly winning the popular vote — it was still far from certain that he would win the election. The Electoral College “math” still had to work out in his favor. It did, but that should never have been in question.

Establishing a National Popular Vote system will strengthen voters’ confidence in our elections. It will bring us closer to the principle of “one person, one vote.”

How Do We Get to a National Popular Vote System?

States must vote to adopt it. States that vote this way opt into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under that compact the state agrees to cast its Electoral College votes for the candidate that wins the overall popular vote in the country. The compact will go into effect when enough states have opted in so that together, they control 270 electoral votes – enough to elect a president.

As of now, this legislation has been enacted into law in 16 jurisdictions possessing 195 electoral votes, including 4 small states (Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont), 8 medium-sized states (Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington), 3 big states (California, Illinois, New York), and the District of Columbia. Additionally, National Popular Vote legislation has been passed in one legislative chamber in 9 states representing 88 electoral votes (AR, AZ, ME, MI, MN, NC, NV, OK, VA), including the Republican-controlled Arizona House and Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate. It has also been endorsed by more than 3,500 state legislators.

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