All Commentary
Thursday, March 14, 2019

National Popular Vote Is Not Electoral Reform

NPV doesn’t mean that “every vote matters,” but would undermine the perceived legitimacy of a close election winner.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

After it became clear Donald Trump’s Electoral College triumph would be accompanied by a popular vote loss, USA Today predicted renewed attempts “to kill the Electoral College.” Since then, Oregon has joined those national popular vote (NPV) efforts, and Colorado is poised to, pending its governor’s signature.

Constitutional Loophole 

Supposedly premised in “advancing democracy” and “making every vote count,” the NPV compact would pledge each adopting state’s electoral votes to whoever received the largest national vote if states representing 270 or more electoral votes did the same. It would sidestep the rules necessary for changing the Electoral College constitutionally, as even Justice Ginsburg, who has voiced support for NPV, argues, because supporters do not command the level of agreement that would require. Colorado would raise the electoral votes represented by signatory states to 181.

NPV doesn’t mean that “every vote matters,” but would undermine the perceived legitimacy of a close election winner.

Seldom mentioned, however, is that the premises claimed by NPV’s supporters are false and that the intended effect is actually to give Democratic constituencies more political power to disenfranchise Americans from choices they would like to make for themselves.

NPV doesn’t achieve its supposed core rationale of fixing the supposed disenfranchisement of voters in safe states so “every vote matters.” Further, it would undermine, rather than enhance, the perceived legitimacy of a close election winner by guaranteeing the existence of plausible claims that close races were stolen, since fraud or cheating or vote harvesting or running up the vote in political strongholds could swing such an election. It could turn the Florida Bush-Gore controversy into a quadrennial nationwide free-for-all.

Alternatives Are More Moderate

If the real issue was disenfranchisement, states have an alternative that does not run afoul of the Constitution. They could assign electoral votes to each district’s winner (plus two to the state winner) rather than winner-take-all. The preferences of every district would then be reflected in the Electoral College. Yet with only two states following such a system, there is little apparent concern for enfranchising those districts out of step with the state majority. In fact, most legislatures have aggressively opposed the idea when it has been raised.

Now, your vote only alters the outcome if it decides your state’s majority winner. In other words, never.

It is true that district representation could be compromised by gerrymandering, a practice by which politicians supposedly against disenfranchising presidential voters intentionally disenfranchise voters in state legislature and House elections. However, that problem does not stem from the Electoral College but from those proclaiming themselves reformers of it.

More importantly, NPV will not make individual votes matter more. Now, your vote only alters the outcome if it decides your state’s majority winner and your state’s electoral votes swing the Electoral College result. In other words, never. Under NPV, it would only matter if it determined the national popular vote winner. Still never. Your personal vote will be insignificant either way.

NPV Would Emphasize Safe States 

Claiming safe states are ignored is also misguided. Their influence has already been exercised; the dominant party already has the support of a majority. Raising money also forces candidates to be responsive, even in “safe” states.

In fact, NPV is about increasing safe states’ political leverage because running up votes there could then swing national elections (local media, consultants, etc., in those places would also love the money and influence it would bring). It would give those politicians and their friends clout to extract greater political payoffs.

Given that every NPV state went for Hillary Clinton, that real intent is clear. NPV would also increase the leverage of major cities, strongholds of Democratic constituencies, and political machines. They have intentionally disenfranchised voters through gerrymandering and turned blind eyes to vote fraud. It is also consistent with adamant Democratic opposition to voter ID requirements and other voter fraud deterrents, which limit the ability to run up votes. In a world without free lunches, however, any such expanded power must come at others’ expense, disenfranchising those forced to bear the burdens of buying urban and safe state votes.

Disenfranchisement claims also ignore Americans’ most important voting powers. NPV backers would subject ever-more individual decisions to political determination, stripping away their rights to make their own decisions. Markets are a democracy where individuals’ votes determine their own outcomes, unlike political democracy, in which one’s votes for, or against, or to abstain, do not. Yet the dominant political coalition in every NPV state favors giving government more power to disenfranchise those individual choices by way of taxes, regulations, mandates, price floors and ceilings, and a cornucopia of other political devices, even though denying such disenfranchisement is the essence of liberty.

Ending Disenfranchisement Is Not Their Goal

NPV backers constantly repeat their disenfranchisement drumbeat. However, they have rejected effective, constitutional solutions to disenfranchisement issues. They have intentionally disenfranchised voters through gerrymandering and turned blind eyes to vote fraud. Every increase in enfranchisement they support will increase the number of votes cast in their direction, increasing the disenfranchisement of others. NPV will not make individual votes matter one iota more. And its advocates continually expand individuals’ disenfranchisement by moving ever-more decisions from them to government.

NPV is not electoral reform. It is a means to enhance the political expropriation of citizens for Democrats and Democrat-favored special interests, camouflaged behind totally misleading rhetoric about advancing democracy.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).