National Popular Vote would propel presidential candidates to small state rural America
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Anyone who believes that rural states and small states should have as much power in presidential elections as the handful of so-called “battleground” states that capture all the attention every four years should get behind a National Popular Vote.

Charter air traffic over small state rural America will spike in 2020, and the reason has nothing to do with business or vacation travel. Those specks in the sky will be presidential candidates streaking toward the battleground states where the 2020 campaign will actually be waged. Meanwhile, unless enough states move quickly to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, most rural folks will once again be left on the sidelines, staring up at fast-disappearing trails of exhaust.

Under the current winner-take-all system by which 48 states allocate their electoral votes, voters in small, rural states are the decided losers. In 2016, two-thirds of all major Trump and Clinton campaign events took place in just six large battleground states – Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan. Over the past 20 years, not a single one of the ten smallest states, or a single one of the most rural states, has hosted a major presidential campaign event [is New Hampshire outside of the 10 smallest?].

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The simple fact is that political power in presidential elections rests exclusively in closely divided battleground states with sizeable blocks of electoral votes up for grabs. Voters in those jurisdictions are inundated with polls, candidate appearances and tens of millions of dollars in campaign advertising.

But if you live in a small, rural, loyally red state or blue state – the conservative Dakotas or Kansas, or in progressive Hawaii or Vermont, for example – you are politically irrelevant. Campaigns have already relegated your state to the “won” or “lost” column. And candidates don’t spend resources in states where they are too far ahead to lose, or too far behind to win.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact requires a candidate to win the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia in order to be awarded the 270 electoral votes necessary to become president. With every voter politically relevant, campaigns would be compelled to go after every single voter in every state – small or large – rural, urban or suburban – red, blue or purple.

Visionary rural politicians on both sides of the aisle have long recognized the need for reform that would give every voter an equal voice in every presidential election. Former Kansas U.S. senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole put it this way in 1979:

“If we were to switch to a system of direct election, I think we would see a resulting change in the nature of campaigning. While urban areas will still be important campaigning centers, there will be a new emphasis given to smaller states. Candidates will soon realize that all votes are important, and votes from small states carry the same import as votes from large cities. That, to me, is one of the major attractions of direct election. Each vote carries equal importance. Direct election would give candidates incentive to campaign in states that are perceived to be single party states.”

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Moreover, the current system typically gives small states and rural states control over just three or four electoral votes. Not much power there. But under a National Popular Vote, voters in the compacting states become powerful participants in the disposition of 270 or more electoral votes – enough to elect a president.

As of today, 15 states and the District of Columbia – together comprising 196 electoral votes – have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That leaves just 74 electoral votes to go to the magic number of 270. 2020 could be the year. 2024 looks more likely. In any event, National Popular Vote is a uniquely American idea whose time has come. Rural America, and the entire nation, will reap the benefits of the voter empowerment that will come along with counting every vote equally.

Christopher Pearson is a state senator in Vermont. He is a senior consultant to National Popular Vote.