Originally published on April 5, 2011
The National Popular Vote interstate compact would wipe away state lines and turn the entire nation into one giant “single-member district” for presidential elections. This, according to computer scientist and NPV inventor John Koza, will make “every voter equal.” That is the title of Koza’s self-published book and the lead slogan employed in support of NPV. And it is preposterous.
The job of every campaign consultant and campaign pollster is, ultimately, to design a campaign plan that discriminates among voters. That is what campaign strategy is—the allocation of scarce campaign resources in what is hoped will be the most effective way. NPV would give more power to these strategists to discriminate among voters.
The Electoral College, because it is based on the political calculation in Congress (that is, each state gets two Senators regardless of size), gives a boost to less populous states. It also brings campaign strategy down to the state level, turning presidential elections into 51 separate campaigns and pulling campaigns toward the most evenly divided "swing" states.
NPV assumes that by wiping away state lines—eliminating both the boost for small population states and the pull toward centrist states—their plan would suddenly make "every voter equal." For a student of the hard sciences—math and computers—like John Koza, this assumption might seem to make sense. Yet the assumption ignores the realities of politics—political campaigns are neither mechanical nor predictable. Any presidential election process is ultimately handed over to campaigns—those strategists and pollsters—to decide who to target, what to say to whom, and who to ignore. By wiping away state lines and removing the necessity of building national coalitions and swinging those most moderate states, NPV simply hands over even more power to campaign insiders.
In place of state lines, campaign strategists would draw their own lines based on race, economics, ideology—whatever the consultants can use to discriminate effectively among voters.
NPV insinuates that with their plan, every voter would see the same ads the same number of times, hear the same speeches, see the same news coverage, perhaps shake hands with each candidate .03 times. Put this way, NPV’s claim is even more clearly erroneous.
No competitive election system can ensure that every voter is privy to the same information when casting his or her vote. While a single-member district makes voters mathematically equal, the dynamics of political campaigning will always, in the real world, treat voters unequally. NPV would eliminate the geographical balance and political moderation of the Electoral College system in pursuit of a chimerical notion of voter equality. In the end, NPV would change but not eliminate campaign strategy and would hand over more power to the strategists.