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One person… how many votes? (Part 2)
Sean Parnell • Apr 11, 2024

One of the main arguments made by advocates for the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) is that it advances the idea of “one person, one vote.” As NPV, Inc.’s website claims: “It will apply the one-person-one-vote principle to presidential elections and make every vote equal.”

But does NPV deliver? It turns out that it doesn’t and can’t. This, the second of three posts (read part 1) on this issue, addresses one of the more obvious ways in which NPV could fall short of “one person, one vote” and demonstrates just how easily the compact could be manipulated.

From the very first presidential election in 1788–89 through 1984, voters frequently cast as many votes as the state had presidential electors. In January 1789, records show approximately 7,400 voters in Pennsylvania cast more than 67,000 votes to fill the state’s 10 presidential elector positions. More recently, the Certificate of Ascertainment for New York from 1984 reports about 252 million votes cast by roughly 7 million voters for the state’s 36 electors. The exact language on the New York certificate is “The whole number of votes given for the office of Elector for President and Vice President was 252,033,372…,” and it then goes on to report the vote total for each individual candidate for elector.

While it has become almost universal that states elect presidential electors by slate—each voter casts a single vote for all of a party’s presidential electors—there’s nothing to stop a state from resuming the earlier practice and reporting vote totals that dramatically inflate their numbers.

Alabama, to pick one example, could decide that each voter casts nine votes, one for each of the state’s electors, and report this higher number as the vote total for each slate of electors. Doing so in 2020 would have meant the Trump-Pence ticket received just under 13 million votes (instead of about 1.4 million votes) while Biden-Harris ticket would have been reported as getting nearly 7.65 million votes (instead of about 850,000 votes).

If Alabama did this and NPV was in effect, the compact would require NPV states to accept these inflated totals. This means that instead of adding a 550,000 vote margin for Trump-Pence, Alabama would add a nearly 5 million vote margin in favor of that ticket. And Alabama is only a medium-sized state.

There is probably no legal challenge that could prevent this, even though it could have serious ramifications when combined with NPV. The U.S. Supreme Court, rejecting Texas’s challenge to elections in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2020, held that one state does not have “a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”

It’s also hard to see how a candidate or voter in Alabama would have standing—the state would still be appointing the correct electors under its own state law. The fact that the situation is extremely problematic for NPV states that agreed to be bound by Alabama’s reported vote totals no matter what, so long as they appear on an “official statement” produced by the state, is not Alabama’s problem.

In the last few years, legislative bodies in five states have passed resolutions condemning the NPV compact. Similar measures have been introduced in another eight states. Obviously, voters and legislators in some states take umbrage at politicians in other states attempting to manipulate the Electoral College. Should the compact ever reach the threshold to take effect, no doubt some states would take further steps against it.

A state seeking to claim a greater share of the national vote count under NPV could revive the once-common practice of treating each voter as having cast multiple votes based on the state’s number of presidential electors. There is little NPV compact states could do short of attempting to ignore or edit those states’ results—but doing that would itself violate the compact.

The compact’s inability to deal with any state choosing to report each voter as having cast as many votes as the state has electors is yet another way NPV falls short of its claim to “…apply the one-person-one-vote principle to presidential elections and make every vote equal.”