The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is often justifiably criticized because the candidate getting the most votes nationwide doesn’t become president; because every vote is not equal; and because candidates seek votes in only a dozen or so closely divided battleground states.
An equally serious flaw of the current system is that the national outcome is susceptible to being affected by a small number of mishandled or manipulated ballots in these decisive battleground states.
In 2020, during the pandemic, more voters than usual will rely on the post office to deliver their ballot to election officials. Mail ballots must be delivered (or at least be postmarked) by Election Day in all the battleground states. Thus, an accidentally or intentionally delayed mail truck could disqualify numerous otherwise qualified voters, thereby flipping all of a state’s electoral votes, and thereby deciding the presidency.
The precariousness of the state-by-state winner-take-all system is not new.
In 2000, a mere 537 popular votes out of 5.8 million votes cast in Florida gave George W. Bush the presidency, even though he lost the national popular vote by 537,179 votes. If the nationwide popular vote had decided the presidency, there would have been no lawyers arguing in state and federal court, no delay in the outcome, and, indeed, no uncertainty or controversy about the result in the first place. Studies have shown that the presidency in 2000 was decided either by rain in one part of Florida or one county’s ill-advised use of the butterfly ballot. In any case, the entire controversy was an artificial crisis created by the state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes.
Similarly, in 2016, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE won the presidency because he carried Michigan by 11,000 votes, Wisconsin by 23,000 votes, and Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, while losing nationally by 2.8 million votes. Although recounts were requested in all three states, lawyers managed to prevent all but one in court. If the national popular vote had decided the presidency, there would have been no interest in recounting anything.
In 2004, a shift of less than 60,000 votes in Ohio would have defeated President George W. Bush despite his nationwide lead of 3 million votes. Winner-take-all came even closer to defeating the national popular vote winner in several 20th century elections. A shift of 9,246 votes from Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterAfter the loss of three giants of conservation, Biden must pick up the mantle Jimmy Carter on political division: US 'teeters on the brink of a widening abyss' To save America, we need a council of presidents MORE in 1976, 12,487 votes from Harry Truman in 1948, and 1,711 votes from Woodrow Wilson in 1916 would have elected the second-place candidate.
Foreign adversaries can also exploit the fragility of the winner-take-all system to influence a few votes in a battleground state, thereby flipping all of a state's electoral votes, and thereby changing the national outcome. “The Electoral College system provides ripe microtargeting grounds for foreign actors who intend to sabotage presidential elections” according to former director of the National Counter-terrorism Center and general counsel at the National Security Agency Matthew Olsen and former Army intelligence officer Benjamin Haas in their article entitled “The Electoral College Is a National Security Threat.”
The susceptibility of the current presidential election system to minor events can be remedied by electing the president on the basis of the national popular vote.
The National Popular Vote compact will guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The National Popular Vote compact has already been enacted into law by 15 states and the District of Columbia (together possessing 196 electoral votes) and will take effect when enacted by states with 74 more electoral votes (for a total of 270).
After the compact comes into effect, every voter in all 50 states and D.C. will acquire a direct vote in the choice of all of the presidential electors from all of the states that enacted the compact. The presidential candidate supported by the most voters in all 50 states and D.C. will thereby win a majority of the presidential electors in the Electoral College (at least 270), and therefore become president.
It is time to immunize our presidential election system from the results of accidental or intentional events deciding the presidency.
John R. Koza, PhD, is chair of National Popular Vote and lead author of the National Popular Vote compact and the book “Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.” He can be reached at koza@NationalPopularVote.com.