Can you imagine a presidential election without battleground states?
That could be the future as momentum builds for reforming the way states allocate their Electoral College votes through the national popular vote.
Influential 2020 candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are calling for the constitutionally mandated Electoral College, with its indirect method of voting, to be abolished. Meanwhile, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is all a-Twitter, calling the Electoral College a “scam” and saying it has a “racial injustice breakdown.” (Whatever that means.)
Then, there is the overarching question: Would such a monumental change favor one party over the other? The answer cuts both ways. But the good news for Democratic voters in states with a solid red history and Republican voters in states with a solid blue history is that their presidential vote would no longer be wasted. Turnout would increase as, for example, Republicans in California and other deeply blue states would have a reason to vote. Today, the sad fact is that voters in 34 out of 50 states already know the party of the presidential nominee who will win their state.
Furthermore, if the popular vote is instituted, presidential candidates will not spend a majority of their time and resources in the dozen or so battleground states, virtually ignoring the rest. (The number of 2020 swing states could significantly increase since, according to Morning Consult’s latest 50-state tracking poll, there is a precipitous net job approval decrease in states Donald Trump won in 2016. But as I wrote in May, Republicans comfort themselves with a “don’t-believe-the-polls mantra.”)
However, rapidly changing national demographics are creating a perfect storm that could turn the winner of the Electoral College permanently blue. By all metrics, trends in numerous red or purple states point to a shrinking percentage of Republican-leaning older white voters, who are being replaced by younger, non-white, female voters who tend to lean Democratic.
A glance at the vast 2004 red electoral map won by George W. Bush — the last re-elected Republican president — illustrates the number of then-red states that are now blue with little hope of turning back. New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia and Nevada, with their 33 electoral votes, are not really even considered Trump battlegrounds, though the president’s campaign is talking up New Mexico and Virginia.
Yes, the future of the Electoral College looks brighter for Democrats. However, the attacks on the current system and movement for reform are an obvious reaction to the quirky results of 2016 and 2000 elections when Trump and Bush lost the national popular vote but secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. (For the record, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2,868,686 votes, while George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by only 543,895 votes.)
Some Republicans, obviously resisting change because they benefited from the status quo in 2016 and 2000, oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV), a bipartisan and more conservative alternative to what national Democrats propose with the junking of the Electoral College. In spite of that opposition — based mostly on myths and falsehoods — the compact is gaining national momentum.
But, as I recently wrote, watch Texas with its 38 electoral votes become the next battleground state. If it turns blue, Republicans might see NPV as a life raft presenting the only chance to win the White House for decades to come.
What exactly is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact? In the simplest terms, it changes the method used by states to award their electoral votes from the commonly, but not universally, used winner-take-all formula to one tied to the national popular vote. Not only can this be done without a constitutional amendment, but it preserves both the Electoral College and state control of elections.
John Koza, chairman of National Popular Vote (which he helped launch), wrote this in a USA Today editorial only days after the flaw in the 2016 Electoral College vote was exposed once more:
The proposal allows legislatures to use the power to award electors granted to states by the Constitution. These states will award their electors as a block to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Since then, the compact movement has grown. Currently, it has been approved by 15 states and the District of Columbia, which together have 196 electoral votes. Only 74 more electoral votes are needed to reach the enactment threshold of 270. But count on NPV heading to the Supreme Court when and if that happens.
The state-based reform is almost always conflated with the elimination of the Electoral College. To repeat, the Electoral College remains intact under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact with only a change to the method of selecting electors. That distinction means NPV is entirely consistent with the U.S. Constitution and explains why governors of those 15 states and the District of Columbia have signed the compact into law.
Those hung up on tradition should be aware that the Founding Fathers never chose the voting method used to select electors nor did they consider the winner-take-all method used by most states today. Rather, state legislatures have the sole constitutional authority to select a method for the awarding of Electoral College votes. Currently, two states, Maine (starting in 1972) and Nebraska (since 1996), reject winner-take-all and award electors based on the presidential nominee who wins the majority of votes in each congressional district.
Regarding that method of awarding electors, this week the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner published an op-ed headlined “No, AOC, the Electoral College isn’t ‘racist’ — but it could use one major reform.” The piece then advocated for the Maine/Nebraska method.
Sure, that method could work well for small-population states with few congressional districts, but it would be very dicey in larger states, adding another layer of conflict to already contentious congressional reapportionment battles every 10 years.
That is why I support the far simpler NPV. But before it is nationally enacted, Republicans must dispel the most popular falsehood, articulated recently by Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw. “Abolishing the Electoral College means that politicians will only campaign in (and listen to) urban areas,” Crenshaw said on Twitter. “That is not a representative democracy.”
It is rare for me to agree with a New York Times opinion columnist, but Jamelle Bouie beautifully explained why Crenshaw’s view is wrongheaded, writing:
A presidential candidate who focused only on America’s cities and urban centers would lose — there just aren’t enough votes. Republicans live in cities just as Democrats live in rural areas. Under a popular vote, candidates would still have to build national coalitions across demographic and geographic lines. The difference is that those coalitions would involve every region of the country instead of a handful of competitive states in the Rust Belt and parts of the South.
There is no doubt that the current method’s days are numbered — especially after a recent federal court ruling, as reflected in this New York Times headline: “Electoral College Members Can Defy Voters’ Wishes.”
There is much for the courts to sort out, but it’s time for the GOP to embrace the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact as it works its way through state legislatures. It offers a constitutionally consistent reform that could keep Republicans winning the White House at a time when more traditionally red states shift away from the GOP.
Cross posted at RealClear Politics