by Hans Von Spakovsky
Last month, both Maine and Nevada did what was in the best interests of their states: They rejected bills that would have enrolled their states in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an unwise effort to override the Electoral College.
In Maine, it was killed by legislators in the state House after it passed Maine’s Senate. In Nevada, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoed the bill that had been passed by members of his own party in the Legislature.
The National Popular Vote compact, which is an agreement between states, requires a participating state to award all of its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes across the nation, not to the candidate who actually won the vote in that state.
In other words, states are agreeing to ignore what the majority of voters in their state decides when it comes to who they believe should be president.
This interstate compact has been sold to state governments as a means to abolish what supporters wrongly claim is the “outmoded, undemocratic Electoral College.”
What is “undemocratic” is an agreement that means that even if every single voter in a state voted against a presidential candidate who won the national popular vote, the state would still have to give all its electoral votes to that candidate.
The National Popular Vote effort was started by a frustrated Al Gore elector after the 2000 election, and the progressive left has poured huge amounts of money and resources into lobbying states to adopt the plan. After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, the compact gathered even more steam.
Sixteen states have now passed laws to enter this compact, representing 196 of the 270 electoral votes the compact would need to constitute a majority in the Electoral College and trigger its implementation.
Nonetheless, Maine and Nevada are among at least seven states to have rejected the compact. When Nevada’s governor vetoed the compact, he correctly warned that it would “diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.”
Those fears are right on target, and are in fact one of the main reasons the Framers of the Constitution created the Electoral College. They feared that under a national popular vote system, presidential candidates would just campaign in the big cities and urban areas, ignoring the less populated, more rural parts of the country.
Thus, they implemented a system where the president is not elected by a direct vote but by electoral votes made on behalf of the states. Each state, no matter how small its population, has at least three electoral votes, since the number of votes the state has is based on how many senators and representatives that state has in Congress.
States with larger populations still have an advantage because they have more representatives in the House. However, under the new compact, the votes of the smaller states would be completely dwarfed by cities and states with larger populations.
Under the Electoral College system, although smaller states do not have as much influence as places like California, New York, or Texas, their votes still matter because their (at minimum) three electoral votes guarantee at least some representation of their state’s collective will out of the 538 total votes.
The nine most populous states contain 51% of America’s population. Under the National Popular Vote compact, a candidate could spend her entire campaign in big cities in California, Texas, Florida, and New York in order to win the election. States like Maine and Nevada wouldn’t even make the list of campaign stops.
Something that so clearly disenfranchises the interests of the other 41 states ought to inspire concern across the political spectrum.
In Maine, after the compact was voted down by a bipartisan legislative coalition, the Free Maine Campaign, founded by former state Sen. Eric Brakey, stated, “This isn’t about Republican versus Democrat. This about whether we #SaveMainesVoice or give our voting power to big cities like NYC and Chicago.”
The Framers wanted a presidential candidate to win a series of regional elections so they would represent the diverse interests of different parts of the country.
In 2017, Yahoo Finance did an analysis of each state based on their largest industries.
Maine’s primary industries are hospitals as well as nursing and residential care facilities. Nevada’s primary industry is accommodation (tourism). California’s largest industries are computers and electronics manufacturing.
It is plainly obvious that, even from a purely economic perspective, these states have vastly different interests.
Under the National Popular Vote compact, the voices of states with smaller populations (like Maine and Nevada) would be quickly drowned out by states with larger populations (like California and New York).
This would create what Alexis de Tocqueville warned against when he spoke of the potential for democracy to lead to a “tyranny of the majority.” It was for this reason that the Founding Fathers did not establish a pure democracy.
The National Popular Vote compact is unfair and is, in fact, antithetical to representative democracy. For a small state like Maine or Nevada to pass this compact is self-destructive—and it also potentially thwarts the votes of residents of larger states as well.
Article II of the Constitution prescribes the Electoral College as the method by which the president is chosen. The National Popular Vote compact is an underhanded attempt to get rid of the Electoral College without going through the formal process of amending the Constitution.
The compact’s backers even claim they can ignore the compact clause of the Constitution that, under Supreme Court precedent, requires this type of interstate compact to be approved by Congress.
Under the compact, smaller states like Maine and Nevada would suffer the most under the inevitable tyranny of the most populous states.
The lawmakers who blocked the compact from passing in Maine and Nevada should be applauded for standing up for true representative government.
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Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative. Read his research.