A national popular vote will spell disaster in presidential elections

The election of Donald TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE in 2016 produced many startling tantrums on the left, but most of them, like the charge of Russia collusion, have turned out to be false. However, one idea, known as the national popular vote, could have catastrophic consequences for our government in the future. The national popular vote is an agreement among participating states that they will give all their electoral votes to the sole winner of the national popular vote. This proposal will go into effect when the total number of electoral votes in participating states reaches 270 or more.

The sponsors of this plan evidently have not thought about what would happen if their plan survives constitutional challenge and goes into effect. It will completely upend the election process and could leave the country without a duly elected president for many months after the election is held. The key error of the sponsors seems to be the view that they are simply substituting the popular vote for the electoral vote in a presidential election. But this single change will completely overturn the two party system that has prevailed in our presidential elections for 200 years.

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We have a two party system in the United States because we have the Electoral College, which has always required a candidate to get at least a majority of the available electoral votes in order to be duly elected as president. When the state by state electoral vote system is in effect, only the two party system can consistently produce this result. Three parties, for example, which might divide the electoral votes three ways, could mean that no candidate reaches the level of 270 votes, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, with all of the uncertainties that would create. Because they do not have a chance to elect a president, splinter or special interest parties always disappear.

That will change if the national popular vote plan actually goes into effect. In that system, the person who gets the most popular votes, no matter the percentage of the total popular vote, will be elected president because he or she will automatically receive the necessary 270 electoral votes of the participating states. Therefore, a person with as little as a quarter of the popular vote could win the presidency and could also be the candidate for any of the new political parties that will be formed to run candidates. The reason for this should be obvious. If the winner of the popular vote in any presidential election will get the 270 votes necessary to become the president, splinter or single issue parties will proliferate. Each will see the possibility of winning the presidency with only a sliver of the popular vote.

So the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, the two big tents that form coalitions to win the presidency, would lose voters to special interest parties that offer the opportunity to elect a president who agrees with any of a number of ideas that really motivate them. Accordingly, we would see new pro-life and pro-choice parties, gun control and gun owner parties, immigration and border control parties, and billionaires with the funds to support their own candidacies vying to collect enough popular votes to be elected president with only a small percentage of the popular vote.

If that is not worrisome enough, imagine what would happen if a recount were needed. Ordinarily, a recount in a presidential election might involve only one state and would not affect the outcome of the entire election. However, in a system where every vote in every state could determine the winner, recounts would be pressed everywhere in a close election. If we assume the two top candidates have 22 percent and 21 percent of the national vote, respectively, a recount in every state might be necessary to determine the winner. It could then take months to produce a president, and that would be if there were no lawsuits arising out of the recount.

The same facts would increase the rewards for committing or charging election fraud, sparking lawsuits throughout the country that could take years to unravel. Meanwhile, the United States would not have a duly elected president. All this shows that the consequences of the national popular vote have not been adequately thought through by its sponsors or by the state legislatures and governors who have approved it. Reacting mindlessly to the election of Donald Trump with fewer popular votes than Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Polls flash warning signs for Trump Polls suggest Sanders may be underestimated 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall MORE in 2016 has driven the left to sponsor a program that could create catastrophic outcomes for our presidential elections in the future.

Peter Wallison is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He served as White House counsel to Ronald Reagan. His most recent book is “Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein in the Administrative State.”