Bipartisan interest has intensified in the National Popular Vote, a somewhat complicated initiative to change the way presidential electors cast their votes for president and vice president, but less messy than amending the U.S. Constitution.
We Americans have a unique way of electing our top national officials. Candidates’ names are on ballots, but in reality “presidential electors” are chosen, each state having electors equal to the number of U.S. Senators (two for each state) and U.S. Representatives (determined by population). South Carolina has seven representatives, nine electoral votes. Pardon the civics lesson; it’s necessary to understanding the heightened interest in having the popular vote determine who is president.
Pat Rosenstiel, senior consultant to National Popular Vote, says “there’s always been support [for changing the system] – now they’re engaged on different levels of awareness and intensity.” He cites the 2.5 million page views in the days following the Nov. 8 election of www.nationalpopularvote.com – compared to a typical daily count of 1,000 hits prior to the election.
The NPV initiative is an interstate compact that takes effect when the states approving the agreement have 270 electoral votes. That’s the magic number for election: One more than half of the 538 electors. Eleven states – none in the South – have enacted the compact; those 11 have 165 electoral votes. The compact needs states with 105 more electoral votes to become effective.
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“The 270 electors from the compacting states give their votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states,” Rosenstiel says. So a state’s electors would not necessarily vote for the winner of that state. Finding legislative support for that perhaps is problematic in South Carolina, although Rosenstiel says “we expect to have bills introduced in South Carolina for 2017.”
Changing how the Electoral College operates “is not about the last election,” Rosenstiel says. He is a self-described conservative Republican who believes Donald Trump would have won the popular vote had NPR been in effect. Rosenstiel points out that 94 percent of the 2016 presidential campaign was in 12 states. National Popular Vote includes supporters across the political continuum.
In his campaign, Trump often spoke of a rigged election system, including the Electoral College. Shortly after he won more than 300 electoral votes but not the popular vote, Trump told an interviewer: “I wouldn’t change my mind because I won.” The NPV website says “Trump reaffirms his long-standing opposition to the Electoral College, favors nationwide vote for president because it would `Bring all the states into play.’ ”
The NPV bill was approved (40-16) in the Arizona House, (57-4) in the New York Senate, and (28-18) in the Oklahoma Senate, all controlled by Republicans. Rosenstiel says in 2016, state legislators voting for approval included 154 Republicans and 162 Democrats.
The nation has evolved in myriad ways in the 200-plus years since the Constitution was written. Only land-owning white men could vote then, and their contemporaries set up buffers against ordinary folks exercising political power. It’s time to rethink the Electoral College, or at least how it operates.
By the numbers
538 | Total presidential electors
435 | U.S. House members
100 | U.S. Senate members
3 | District of Columbia (23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961)
9 | South Carolina electors
6 | States with minimum 3 electors
The U.S. Constitution specifies that the President and Vice President of the United States are to be chosen every four years by a small group of people who are individually referred to as “presidential electors.” Collectively, they are the “Electoral College.” Each state is entitled to one elector for each of its U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators. – The Electoral College | National Popular Vote
The U.S. Constitution leaves exclusively to the states “the appointment and mode of appointment of electors.” (McPherson v. Blacker, Supreme Court of the United States, 1892)