New York has just joined the national popular vote (NPV) compact. In the name of democracy, it would pledge each adopting state’s electoral votes to whoever received the largest national vote, if enough other states do the same. It brings adopters to 165 out of 270 state electoral votes necessary to impose their agreement.
Unfortunately, NPV fails to achieve its core rationale–fixing supposed disenfranchisement of voters in “safe” states. And beyond sidestepping the Constitution, it would undermine, rather than enhance, the perceived legitimacy of a close election victor. There would always be plausible claims that close races were stolen, since fraud or cheating or other forms of running up the vote anywhere could swing such an election. It could create the Florida Bush-Gore controversy nationwide.
If the real issue was disenfranchisement, states have an alternative, clearly constitutional, approach available–assigning electoral votes to each district’s winner (plus two to the state vote winner) rather than a state winner-take-all system. Every district could affect Electoral College totals. Yet only two states have adopted it. Most legislatures have strenuously fought the idea.
Unfortunately, district representation is compromised by gerrymandering, designed to create as many “safe” districts as possible. But gerrymandering, not the Electoral College, is the cause, by which politicians supposedly against disenfranchising Presidential voters disenfranchise voters in House and state legislature elections.
NPV will not make individual votes any more influential. Your vote only matters now if it is the decisive vote in your state and your state changes the Electoral College result; under NPV, it would only matter if it determined the national popular vote winner. In other words, it will remain insignificant.
The claim that safe states are ignored is also misguided. Their influence has already been exercised. Safe states are that way because the dominant party supports policies representing the majority view of their voters–the platform already represents them. Successfully raising money in a state forces candidates to be responsive to those donors’ interests, as well.
In fact, NPV is about increasing the political leverage of safe states, because running up the vote count in “friendly” territory could now swing a national election. And the possibilities go way beyond “get out the vote” drives, to include fraud, as with absentee ballots forged for voters who have died or moved but not been purged from voter rolls, or who are unlikely or unable to vote, such as public housing or nursing home residents, or for non-existent people who have been registered, or by ineligible felons and non-citizens, or by stealing absentee ballots from apartment mailboxes for fraudulent filing. Other ruses include registration and voting in multiple districts or states (over 2 million Americans are already registered in more than one state), vote buying using cash alcohol, drugs and cigarettes), voter impersonation, and more.
That leverage would give politicians and their friends in those states (of course, local media, consultants, pollsters, etc., would also love the millions it would bring their way), all of which, so far, have recently voted Democratic, clout to extract more promised political payoffs. NPV would also increase the leverage of major cities, strongholds of Democratic constituencies and political machines, because political resources can reach more voters in denser population centers. It can also explain adamant Democratic opposition to voter ID requirements and other attempts to rein in voter fraud, which would limit their ability run up votes in “friendly” districts.
However, in a world without free lunches, those favors have to be financed out of others’ pockets through taxes or deficits (which are politically attractive because they hide who will be forced to pay in the future). In other words, NPV would effectively disenfranchise those who would be forced to pay for expanded redistribution to buy urban and safe state votes.
The disenfranchisement claim also ignores its most important form— subjecting ever more individual decisions to political determination takes away individuals’ rights to decide things for themselves. Markets are a form of democracy where each person’s vote determines their own results. But NPV backers want to give government more power to override individual choices, even though preventing that was what our founders called maintaining liberty and designed the Constitution to prevent.
National popular backers constantly repeat the disenfranchisement refrain. However, those same politicians have not just rejected, but actively campaigned against more effective, clearly constitutional alternatives. They have intentionally disenfranchised voters through gerrymandering and frequently turned a blind eye to (or participated in) a host of vote fraud techniques. Every increase in enfranchisement they support is intended to increase votes cast “the right way,” necessarily increasing the disenfranchisement of others. It will not make individual votes matter more. And its backers propose expanding the disenfranchisement of all individuals by taking even more decisions from them to vest in government instead. If reform means improvement, NPV is not electoral reform. It is a way to enhance the political expropriation of citizens as taxpayers and subjects of burdensome regulations, to transfer more of their property and freedom to benefit favored special interests, while hiding behind totally misleading rhetoric of advancing democracy.