What is National Popular Vote?
Like the United States, most major democratic nations do not use a national popular vote to elect their top official.
The American Founders debated and then rejected a national popular vote because it provides no checks and balances to protect minority rights or prevent corruption. Instead, they created the Electoral College—the two-step, state-based democratic process we have always used to elect the President and Vice President of the United States
Today, a San Francisco-based lobbying organization called National Popular Vote is pushing this discredited idea. Founded, chaired, and funded by a computer scientist named John Koza, National Popular Vote (NPV) is also the name of Koza’s tricky plan to change how we elect the President.
The NPV plan is state legislation. States commit to ignore their own voters and instead give away their electoral votes based on the national popular vote. By doing this, Koza hopes to manipulate the Constitution and, in effect, nullify the Electoral College.
Because the Constitution does give state legislatures the power to appoint their electors, there is a chance that NPV would be upheld by the courts. This is true even though the purpose of this flexibility is to allow states to best represent the will of their own people (rather than to ignore their state altogether).
NPV legislation creates an interstate compact that takes effect if passed by states with a total of 270 or more electoral votes—a majority that would control who becomes president.
NPV leaves the Electoral College structure in place but eliminates its effects thus doing away with its benefits. This would lead to uncertainty, instability, and a constitutional crisis.
NPV fails to create any national standards for which candidates are on the ballot, who gets to vote, how votes are counted, and when or how they are recounted. Because NPV is an end-run around the constitution, it cannot create an authentic national election and would instead lead to chaos.
Part of the genius of the Electoral College is that it keeps states in charge of elections. This turns states into the equivalent of watertight compartments on an ocean liner: a problem in one compartment—or state—can be isolated and then fixed.
NPV would make American presidential elections the electoral equivalent of the Titanic.
The NPV proposal would also allow a candidate to win without any sort of majority, encouraging more candidates to run and thus ensuring that future Presidents would be elected with smaller and smaller pluralities. For example, under NPV you might have five serious candidates and the winner could receive less than a third, or even less than a quarter, of the national vote. Most of that support might come from just one region of the country or from a few major cities.
Even worse, if NPV ever succeeded, the next step in nationalizing American elections would be a national election bureaucracy—presidential appointees in charge of presidential elections.
NPV is a clever political tactic for Electoral College opponents frustrated by the hard work required to amend the Constitution. But clever tactics are often bad policy—Koza’s NPV plan would contort the Constitution and endanger election integrity.
Koza’s first foray into politics was to convince states to adopt lotteries using his patented scratch-off ticket system (and then to pay royalties back to Koza). NPV is a bigger—and much more dangerous—gamble.
Status of NPV in Each State
How Did the Founders Intend the Electoral College to Work?
The American founders rejected a national popular vote and instead created the Electoral College. This state-by-state election process forces politicians to attract national support, keeps states in charge of elections (preventing presidents from controlling their own reelections), and contains disputes within the states where they arise.