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How Would We Count the Votes?
Sean Parnell • Apr 08, 2020

For some years I have been pointing out what I term the “mechanical” flaws of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV), explaining that if it were to go into effect, the poorly-crafted scheme would immediately run into serious problems that could prevent producing an accurate or timely popular vote total. At the core of the problem is that, despite claims to the contrary by its advocates, there really is no true and official “national popular vote” count for the Presidency.

Instead, there are vote totals from fifty-one separate elections operated under widely divergent rules, procedures, and practices. What NPV attempts to do is cobble together these vote totals and pronounce from them a “national popular vote winner.” I’ll deal with some of the specific problems with this in another post, but here I just want to point out that it seems like skeptics of NPV aren’t the only people asking questions along the lines of “How would we count the votes?” under the compact.

Consider the following statements recently made by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea at a conference and speaking in support of NPV:

That brings us to the question at the heart of this conference – what would be different if America used the popular vote to elect our president, and how would we count the votes?

We may not have all the answers yet, and I know there are different proposals on how the mechanics would work.

I’m not here to criticize or endorse any of those approaches. In fact, I’m here to encourage some of those lively debates and hopefully pull more people into the conversation…

Gorbea goes on to describe a few of the challenges she and other states would face trying to get a complete and accurate vote count under NPV (Rhode Island is a member of the compact, having joined in 2013), and then observes:

These were some of the issues that came up at the annual meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in New Mexico this past summer. They’re conversations I’m going to keep bringing up, because we need to be ready if and when the Compact becomes effective.

Shouldn’t the question “How would we count the votes?” have been settled well before the compact was proposed, never mind before it passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia? Doesn’t it seem deeply problematic that the chief elections officers of the states who would be responsible for executing the compact are, more than a decade after it was introduced, unclear about how to make it work and still trying to figure out how and where to obtain vote totals from?

How would we count the votes? Until there’s a satisfactory answer, it seems irresponsible to allow NPV to even be considered again in any state, and highly advisable for states that have joined the compact to revisit whether it should remain in it given the uncertainty about how to count the votes.