U.S. Popular Vote

Update May 11, 2018: Connecticut becomes the latest state to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact!

U.S. Popular Vote is a campaign to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to fix the Electoral College. The goal is to ensure that in every presidential election, the winner of the popular vote is also the winner of the presidency. Today, Americans do not have the right to vote directly for the President or Vice President. Instead, the President is chosen by the Electoral College, a system that artificially inflates the power of voters in swing states, gives candidates an incentive to campaign primarily in only a few states, and deters civic engagement. In 2016, for the fifth time in our nation’s history, the winner of the popular vote was not the winner of the presidential election. It is time for a change. 

2016 Electoral Map
2016 Electoral Map

We can fix the Electoral College and elect our President by popular vote by getting states with a combined total of at least 270 electoral votes to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Created by John R. Koza, The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement in which states pledge to award all their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. When states with 270 electoral votes join the Compact, it will take effect and ensure that the candidate who wins the popular vote always wins enough electoral votes to become president.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have joined the Compact, for a total of 172 electoral votes. But we still need to get more states on board for the Compact to succeed. Fixing the way we elect our President can be complicated. But we have broken it all down into bite-sized sections below:

History of the Electoral College

The U.S. Constitution does not give Americans the right to vote directly for the President or Vice President of the United States. Although Americans select their representatives, senators, and governors by popular vote, the presidency is different. A small group of presidential electors, collectively known as the Electoral College, chooses the President and Vice President. But why does the Electoral College exist? How does it work? Is there any way to change it? Our brief history of the Electoral College will give you the information to understand this unique system.

Why do we have the Electoral College?

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, many different methods of the electing the President and Vice President were considered, including election by popular vote and election by Congress or by state legislatures. There were many factors to discuss—balancing state and federal interests, the risk of an unfit candidate succeeding through a direct election, and the desire to allow for a degree of popular participation. Ultimately, a compromise was reached that we now refer to as the Electoral College, a system in which electors in each state choose the President and Vice President.

How does the Electoral College Work?

The Electoral College is the term for a group of electors who choose the President and Vice President of the United States. The number of electors in each state is determined by the total number of that state’s senators and representatives. Today there are a total of 538 electors in the country, with states having as few as three electors and as many as 55. A majority of electoral votes—270 today—are required to elect the President and Vice President.

Electoral votes by state
Electoral votes by state

As a result of the Electoral College, Americans do not vote directly for the President or Vice President. Nor do Americans vote for who their electors will be. Most electors are chosen by their state’s political party although some states have different procedures. Instead, when Americans vote for their presidential candidate, they are actually voting for that candidate’s electors. Most states award all of their electors to the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state although some states opt for a different method.

Though Election Day is considered to be the second Tuesday in November, the members of the Electoral College do not cast their votes for President and Vice President until the Monday after the second Wednesday in December of presidential election years. The electors are expected to and usually vote for their party’s presidential nominee, but they are not required to do so. Occasionally, faithless electors act independently and cast their electoral vote for a different candidate. However, faithless electors have never influenced the outcome of the presidential election.

Why the Electoral College Needs Fixing

The Electoral College has some profound effects on the way campaigns are run and elections are won. The Electoral College artificially divides the country into “safe states” and “swing states.” Safe states are states where one of the two major parties has a large advantage and their candidate is likely to win that state’s electoral votes regardless of the candidate running for President. Swing states are more politically divided and could potentially go either way in a presidential election. Swing states end up being the primary battleground for candidates because whichever candidate performs better in swing states is likely to prevail in the election. That’s why candidates spend approximately 90 percent their time campaigning in about a dozen swing states.

The Electoral College also makes it possible for a candidate to win the presidential election while losing the popular vote. This has happened five times in our nation’s history—1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016—and it is likely to happen again in the near future. Though Americans’ support for the Electoral College has changed over time, for decades more Americans have wanted to get rid of the Electoral College than keep it.

How can we fix the Electoral College?

There are two ways of effectively replacing the Electoral College with a national by popular vote. The first option is passing a constitutional amendment to achieve that goal.

Constitutional Amendment

Though a constitutional amendment would be the most direct way to get rid of the Electoral College, passing that amendment would be extremely difficult for a few reasons.

First, an amendment would have to be proposed either by two thirds of both houses of Congress, or by a constitutional convention called by two thirds of the states—34 states as of this writing. Then the amendment would have to be ratified by three fourths of the states—38 states as of this writing. Both steps—proposal and ratification—are required for an amendment to be added to our constitution. Since support for the Electoral College is often divided along party lines, it is unlikely for the two major political parties in Congress to find enough common ground on this issue to support an amendment. We believe an amendment on other issues, such as getting big money out of politics, is much more realistic. 

For similar reasons, it is unlikely that 34 state legislatures would unite to support an amendment that gets rid of the Electoral College and institutes the popular vote as the method of electing our President and Vice President. Legislators or organizations proposing an amendment to get rid of the Electoral College are more likely doing so as a symbolic gesture than as a serious effort for reform. Fortunately, there is another way to elect our next President by popular vote instead of through the Electoral College.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

The Constitution gives states the power to choose their electors in the matter they see fit. Most states currently award all their electors to the candidate that wins the popular vote in their state although Maine and Nebraska choose theirs through proportional representation. However, because states have significant freedom in choosing their electors, states can award all their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, which is the basis for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Created by John R. Koza, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement in which states pledge to award all their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. For example, if presidential candidate Jane Doe wins the national popular vote and New Jersey has joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, then New Jersey will award all of its 14 electoral votes to Jane Doe, even if Jane Doe does not win the popular vote in New Jersey. When enough states join together in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, it would ensure that the candidate who wins the popular vote always wins enough electoral votes to become President.

Today, 270 electoral votes constitute a majority of electoral votes so once states totaling 270 electoral votes join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, the candidate who wins the national popular vote will also win enough electoral votes to become President. The Compact does not take effect until that threshold of 270 electoral votes is reached so there is no danger that individual states would disrupt the Electoral College by joining the Compact until enough states to reach 270 electoral votes have joined.

The good news is that many states are already on board with the plan. To date, eleven states and the District of Columbia have joined the Compact, for a total of 172 electoral votes. Once additional states with 99 electoral votes join the Compact, it will go into effect and the next President will be the winner of the national popular vote. But we need your help to mount a successful U.S. Popular Vote campaign.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

If you support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact there are two ways you can help us move forward. First, if you are interested in volunteering to spread the word about the Compact (most people still haven’t heard of it) send us an email with the subject line NPVIC and say you’re ready to help. Second, support our organization with a donation so we can continue to advance this cause. Fixing the Electoral College is an important step in making government work again, so join the campaign and make a difference today!