Presidential Campaign

States can reform Electoral College — here’s how to empower popular vote

national popular vote
national popular vote

Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump rarely agree, but in 2001 Clinton called for a bill for a national popular vote for president, while Trump referred to the current system of electing the President in 2012 as “a disaster for a democracy … a total sham and a travesty.”

{mosads}The reason why five of our nation’s 45 incoming presidents have entered office after losing the national popular vote (while winning the Electoral-College vote) is that most states have winner-take-all laws that award all the state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in that state.

Given that there have now been eight consecutive presidential elections with an average national-popular-vote margin of less than 5 percent, it is safe to predict that the nation will continue to experience elections ending in this unhealthy way.

These state winner-take-all laws are also the reason why the 2016 presidential candidates concentrated 94 percent of their campaign events in just 12 closely divided “battleground” states, while giving little or no attention to states with 70 percent of the nation’s population.

Candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind (and therefore have nothing to gain and nothing to lose). The result of presidential candidates focusing on a mere 12 states is not just that babies don’t get kissed in the spectator states. There are real consequences to the current system and they are not trivial.

Presidential candidates and sitting first-term presidents shape important policies with an eye to winning the 12 critical states that decide the election.

The 2016 candidates, for example, catered to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in fashioning their positions on trade treaties. In 2001, President George W. Bush imposed steel quotas, despite his party’s long-standing preference for free trade. President Barack Obama bragged that the Small Business Administration gave its largest grant in history to a ricotta cheese factory in — you guessed it — Ohio.

Recent books such as “Presidential Pork; Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter;” “The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President;” “The Particularistic President;” and “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign” provide innumerable examples of battleground states receiving a wide variety of presidentially-controlled benefits, including grants, disaster declarations, and various exemptions.

Fortunately, the Founding Fathers provided us with a way to change the current method of electing the president so that the candidate receiving the most popular vote in all 50 states always wins the White House.

This makes every vote, in every state, will be politically relevant in every presidential election.

The U.S. Constitution empowers each state to choose the method of awarding its electoral votes (“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”).

Despite attempts by defenders of the current system to suggest that the Founders designed or preferred the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes, winner-take-all is not in the U.S. Constitution, was not debated by the Constitutional Convention, was never mentioned in the Federalist Papers, and was used in only three states in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789.

The National Popular Vote interstate compact provides a way to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact will go into effect after being enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes — that is, enough to elect a president (270 of 538).

Under the compact, when the Electoral College meets in mid-December, the candidate who received the most popular votes in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) would receive all the electoral votes from all the enacting states (and thereby become president).

So far, 11 states possessing 165 electoral votes have enacted the National Popular Vote bill into law. Enactment by states possessing an additional 105 electoral votes is necessary to bring the compact into effect. The bill has made significant progress in this direction by already passing one legislative chamber in 12 additional states with 96 electoral votes.

The bill was most recently approved by a bipartisan 40-16 vote in the Republican-controlled Arizona House, 28-18 in the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate, 37-21 in the Democratic-controlled Oregon House, and unanimously by legislative committees in Georgia and Missouri. A total of 2,794 state legislators have endorsed it.

When the state legislatures convene in 2017, they should enact the National Popular Vote compact in order to ensure that we have a 50-state campaign for President in 2020 and that the president is the candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Koza is chair of National Popular Vote and lead author of the National Popular Vote interstate compact and the book “Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.” He can be reached at

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Hillary Clinton
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video