How to keep the Electoral College while letting the people pick our president
By Laura Brod
Laura Brod is a spokesperson for National Popular Vote, a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents and a former Republican state legislator.
The 2012 elections have reenergized the national debate over the Electoral College, and that's a good thing.
But that debate is needlessly veering off in two radically opposite directions.
On one side are the status quo defenders, who believe that protecting a system of electing the president that leaves four out of five Americans behind in 40 "spectator" states is a good idea because it's what we know.
On the other side are folks who believe fixing our broken system requires us to eliminate the Electoral College that the Founders carefully put in place.
The choice is not between the devil we know and the devil we don't. There is a sensible middle ground.
We can fix the system, keep the Electoral College and assure that every voter will be equally important come 2016. That solution is called National Popular Vote. It's an artful, state-based solution to the significant problem with our system.
Now, three critical points.
First, it is important to understand that the Electoral College itself is not the problem.
The problem is state-based, winner-take-all laws that award all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state. It is these laws, and not the Electoral College itself, that must be changed.
Winner-take-all rules, in place in 48 of 50 states, drive presidential campaigns directly to 10 battleground "swing" states where virtually all the candidates' time, money and attention are concentrated.
That's why voters in the battleground states of Michigan and Ohio were inundated with campaign messaging about auto bailouts; why candidates were quick to address federal workforce issues in Virginia, and why voters in Colorado heard so much about defense and the military.
Meanwhile, until polls here in Minnesota began to tighten, both campaigns ignored us. The pattern repeats itself across the country. Republicans feel free to bypass reliably "red" states like North Dakota and Kansas, and Democrats don't bother campaigning in reliably "blue" states such as New York and California. As a result, presidential candidates fail to address the issues of concern to four out of five Americans.
Second, under the current system, Americans face the very real possibility of a president who wins the national popular vote but fails to capture the majority of electoral votes.
It didn't happen in 2012, but it has occurred four times over the past 56 presidential elections, including George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore in 2000. That number almost became five in 2004, when a 60,000-vote switch in Ohio would have awarded that state's electoral votes, and the presidency, to John Kerry even though Bush won a 3-million-vote popular victory. This is something many citizens — on both sides of the aisle — simply believe is wrong.
Third, the National Popular Vote bill makes every vote equally important and preserves the Electoral College.
The National Popular Vote bill is a compact by which state legislatures use their power under Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution to award their states' electoral votes as they see fit.
Under the compact, states with electoral votes totaling 270 or more agree to award all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote. The current system of winner-take-all state laws gets fixed. The Electoral College remains in place. And everyone's vote becomes equally important, regardless of where he or she lives.
The good news is, we are almost halfway there. Thus far, eight states plus the District of Columbia (Hawaii, Washington, California, Illinois, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey), with 132 combined electoral votes, have passed National Popular Vote.
The compact will take effect when states with 270 or more total electoral votes pass the measure. Since state and national polls consistently show 75 percent of Americans support the change, prospects appear bright for 2016.
When that happens, smart strategy will press presidential candidates to campaign for every single vote across all 50 states. Because a vote in Minnesota or Kansas will carry as much weight as a vote in Florida or Ohio. No more "battleground" states or "flyover-ATM" states where candidates rush in to raise money and then disappear.
Every voter in every state will be equally important.