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Bullfinch Intern Op-Ed: Three "But’s" About the NPVIC


(As The Bullfinch Group's summer intern, Anna has been tasked with diving into a political issue that people may not know too much about...so she tackled the Electoral College and the prospect of a national popular vote...enjoy her findings and thoughts!)


In the United States democracy, states vote for the next president, not people. It is called the Electoral College system: after voters cast their ballots, the winner in each state typically receives all the electoral votes for that state, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which use a proportional system. In other words, even though 5.3mm people from Texas voted for Biden in 2020, all 38 electoral votes from the state went to Trump because he had 500k more votes.


Specifically, the Electoral College election system allows one “elector” for every Member of Congress from each state, thus every state will have at least three electors: two for their Senators, and at least one for their Member of Congress, with larger states gaining an elector for each additional Representative in their state. Additionally, the District of Columbia is treated like a state for the purpose of the Electoral College and has three electors. In total, there are 538 electors.


Some believe this system creates an imbalance in voting power among states, as less populous states may have a disproportionate influence on presidential power. Others believe this re-balance is crucial for ensuring all Americans have an influence on the election, not just those from larger states.


Further, within the “winner-takes-all” system, all the candidates’ campaigns, and even some of their policies are focused on swing states, neglecting the rest since they have either a guaranteed win or imminent failure there.


To address these concerns and account for the national popular vote, the concept of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NVPIC) was created. This direct democracy idea lies in participating states agreeing to allocate their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. Despite its promising nature, the compact has certain promises and provides only surface-level solutions to specific issues:


Legitimacy and Chances


People debate whether the NVPIC disturbs the state and federal balance of power. People question if it needs congressional approval. People question whether it needs the Supreme Court’s approval. People dispute whether it requires an Amendment to the Constitution. People debate whether the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a compact in the first place. Needless to say, there is a lot of debate around it.


None of these questions have been properly answered. And they won’t be properly raised until the NVPIC gets a sufficient number of votes for its enactment. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in the Summer of 2022, around 63% of U.S. adults believe that the president should be elected based on the nationwide popular vote. And the number of people who advocate for this change has been gradually growing since the 2016 general elections.

Since the 2016 general elections, when Hillary Clinton’s win of the national popular vote didn’t secure her presidency, six more states enacted NPVIC into law, adding 42 more electors and totaling 205. To ensure the agreement receives legitimate enactment, which most likely will be put under question many times, a minimum of 270 electors must be attained.


Tectonic Plates of American Democracy


The enaction of the NPVIC won’t solve the unfair distribution of political attention to states but only shift it. For example, in the time between the two major parties’ 2020 conventions and that November's general election, only half of the 10 most populous states had more than 5 election events like rallies, candidates’ speeches, or roundtables. Six million of Wisconsin’s citizens had an opportunity to attend 18 election events, while 40 million Californians didn’t have any, just because CA is a predominantly blue state.


NVPIC promises to make every American voice fought for. But why would you go into the woods if you want to find a deer? Visit a Zoo, its presence there is guaranteed. Vote hunters will turn to metropolises with large populations. This way, future election campaigns will be targeting the most populous states, directing their policies toward urban matters.


NVPIC won’t ensure politicians’ attention to North Dakota, Alaska, or Maine. It will trigger the shift from visiting a couple of states to visiting a couple of cities, which will keep leaving out millions of voters. The suggested compact is not more inclusive. It just entails an alternative indifference based on other factors.


For illustration, check out my 2020 Campaign Map where I highlight the states visited by the two major parties’ candidates between the conventions and Election Day. Then see my map where I highlight states with more than 7 million residents. So we won’t necessarily see more states involved in the process, just different (and more populous) states.


Enlargement of the Partisan Ring


1-in-10 presidents of the United States assumed office without securing the majority of the popular votes nationwide. While in each of these instances the Democrat won the popular vote, Republicans certainly have the ability to win the popular vote as well (see 2022, where Republican candidates received an overall larger vote share than Democratic candidates).


So, the NPVIC is not a guarantee for Democratic success. Though, according to the Daily Kos’s list of the states that are likely to join the NPVIC by the 2028 general election and put it into legal action, the compact will consist of only the Democratic states, which highlights the partisan divide in the country.


Reaching the 270-seat threshold, these states will not only enforce the compact but also gain most of the electoral seats. In theory, it will substantially increase the level of difficulty for Republicans in election races and grant Democrats easier victory since they have stronger support in populous urban areas. Nevertheless, recent polls reveal that the national political affiliation in the US is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Therefore, Republicans have all the chances to overcome “urban inconveniences”. This only proves that NPVIC will strengthen partisanship, spreading it around the whole country, as politicians engage in electoral boxing even in states that have traditionally aligned with their political affiliation.


Moreover, even though the implementation of the NPVIC might open up chances for Independent candidates, as they would no longer face the challenge of winning individual states outright, it may in the same way tie them up. Two major parties have well-established financial support and infrastructure. The NPVIC may foster a nationalized campaign approach that requires players to have considerable funding and widespread recognition, which Independents often lack.


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