The first step to fixing the electoral college

If we keep up the fight and get enough states on board, America will never again elect a president who loses the national popular vote.


Should someone else’s vote count more than yours?

For 80% of Americans, that’s exactly what’s happening. Their vote for president isn’t nearly as valuable as the vote of someone in a so-called “swing state.” Why?

Most of us live in states that have become so predictably Democratic or Republican that we’re taken for granted by candidates. Presidential elections now turn on the dwindling number of swing states that could go either way, which gives voters in those states huge leverage.

The 2020 election came down to just over 40,000 votes spread across just three swing states.

2016 came down to fewer than 80,000 votes also across three states.

In those elections, the national popular vote wasn’t that close. In fact, in the last five elections, the winners of the popular vote beat their opponents by an average of 5 million votes.

The current state-by-state, electoral college system of electing presidents is creating ever-closer contests in an ever-smaller number of closely divided states for elections that aren’t really that close.

Not only that, but these razor-thin swing state margins can invite post-election recounts, audits, and lawsuits — even attempted coups. A losing candidate might be able to overturn 40,000  votes with these techniques. Overturning 5 million votes would be nearly impossible.

The current system presents a growing threat to the peaceful transition of power.

It also strips us of our individual power. If you’re a New York Republican or an Alabama Democrat, presidential candidates have little incentive to try and win your vote under the current system. They don’t need broad popular support as much as a mobilized base in a handful of swing states. Campaigning to a smaller and more radical base is also leading to uglier, more divisive campaigns.

And it’s become more and more likely that candidates are elected president without winning the most votes nationwide. It’s already happened twice this century.

Now, fixing the Electoral College should be the ultimate goal. But this requires a constitutional amendment — which is almost impossible to pull off because it would need a two-thirds vote by Congress plus approval by three-quarters of all state legislatures.

But, in the meantime, there’s an alternative — and it starts with getting our states to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Don’t let that mouthful put you off. It could save our democracy.

This compact would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide WITHOUT a constitutional amendment.

How does it work?

The Constitution assigns each state a number of electors equal to its number of representatives and senators. As of now, the total number of electors is 538. So anyone who gets 270 or more of those Electoral College votes becomes president.

Article 2 of the Constitution allows state legislatures to award their electors any way they want.

So all that’s needed is for states with a total of at least 270 electoral votes to agree to award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

The movement to do this is already underway. 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined the compact, agreeing that once enough states join, all their electoral votes will go to the popular vote winner.

Together, states in the compact have 195 electoral votes. So we just need a few more states with at least 75 electors to join the compact and it’s done.

Popular vote laws have recently been introduced in Michigan [15 electors] and Minnesota [10 electors], which if passed, would bring the total to 220.

Naturally, this plan will face legal challenges. There are a lot of powerful interests who stand to benefit by maintaining the current system.

But if we keep up the fight and get enough states on board, America will never again elect a president who loses the national popular vote. No longer would 80 percent of us be effectively disenfranchised from presidential campaigns. And a handful of votes in swing states would no longer determine the winner — inviting recounts, audits, litigation, and attempted coups that threaten our democracy.

If you want to know more or get involved, click this link to read about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

If your state is not already a member, I urge you to contact your state’s senators and reps to get your state on board.  


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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.