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Defending the Electoral College and the Constitution since 2009

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One person… how many votes? (Part 3)
Sean Parnell • Apr 18, 2024

In previous posts, I explained how the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) falls well short of the “one person, one vote” standard it claims to embody.

The first shows how an election system like Approval Voting would give each voter multiple votes, inflating a state’s share of the vote count (interestingly, it looks like the leader of the organization behind NPV has signed off on this). The second describes how states could inflate their share of the national results by treating each voter as having cast as many votes as the state has presidential electors.

Both of these scenarios involve voters casting more than one vote. This, the third and final post about NPV failing to live up to its “one person, one vote” sales pitch, looks at the opposite problem – when NPV transforms “one person, one vote” into “one person, no vote.”

Despite claims to count “every vote in every state,” the compact text is clear that only votes “cast in a statewide popular election” will be included in the national tally. If a state does something that doesn’t meet the definition of a “statewide popular election” then that state’s voters will be disenfranchised.

While every state currently runs its elections in a way that meets the definition, this hasn’t always been the case and there’s no guarantee it will continue to be the case. Throughout history states have tinkered with the manner of electing presidential electors. They continue to do so today. Nebraska’s legislature is currently considering moving away from its congressional district system and back to winner-take-all.

While that change would still qualify as a statewide popular election, other recent proposals and practices common in the past would not. Arizona legislation proposed a few years ago would have moved the state to a system similar to Maine and Nebraska, with voters picking presidential electors by congressional district. The last two electors would have been picked by the state legislature. Similar legislation was considered in Virginia this year, except the sitting governor’s political party would have picked the last two electors.

In both of these systems, millions of voters would go to the polls and register their support for a presidential candidate, just like in every other state. But, because no elector would be elected on a statewide basis, when it came time to tabulate the national vote count under the compact all these millions of votes would be excluded – zero votes from Arizona, zero votes from Virginia.

It turns out that a number of past practices, which could be revived at any time by a state looking to move away from winner-take-all, would have the same effect. For example, in the early years of the Republic, a few states drew up special elector districts, one for each presidential elector. If a state with only a single member of the U.S. House of Representatives decided it wanted the benefits of the congressional district system, it would be easy enough to divide the state up into three elector districts. But because there would be no statewide election, all those votes would be excluded from the national vote count. Even allowing voters to vote for individual electors – another once-common practice – would cause a state’s votes to be excluded according to the NPV compact.

Suffice it to say, if a state adopts a system that still has voters choosing most or all of the state’s presidential electors but those votes are excluded from the national tally, there will be outrage along with reasonable questions about the legitimacy of the outcome.

Advocates for NPV endlessly repeat their slogans about making “every vote count” and the importance of “one person, one vote,” without addressing how the compact would work in the real world. With states free to run their own elections, NPV cannot deliver on its promises. Perhaps new slogans are in order, along the lines of “Counting all the votes we think should be counted” and “one person, however many votes your state gives you” would work? Not as catchy, but at least accurate.