Making Democracy Work

National Popular Vote Compact Study - 2009

National Popular Vote Compact

Background

North Carolina recently had the opportunity to be a part of the drama that is the election of an American president. North Carolinians cast 49.7% of their votes for Barack Obama, 49.38% of their votes for John McCain, and .6% of their votes for Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate for president. Despite the fact that Obama received less than half of the vote in North Carolina, all fifteen of North Carolina’s electoral votes went to Obama. Actually, the presidential candidates had not received North Carolinian votes. As provided for in the U.S. Constitution, North Carolinians had cast a vote for a list of Electors. Who were those Electors chosen?

A member of the LWVUS study committee has looked at the results of the 2009 election and has ascertained that a swing of less than 500,000 votes in seven states (including North Carolina) would have changed the winner. McCain would have won the election despite the fact that Obama had received about 7,500,000 more popular votes than McCain. In fact, four times in American history, the candidate who did not get the most popular vote was elected president (most recently in 2000 when George Bush beat Al Gore although Bush received fewer popular votes).

Surveys show that most Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should be elected president. Since 1970 the League of Women Voters has supported amending the Constitution to provide for the direct election of the President of the United States. But the League does not have a position on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

How would the NPV Compact achieve election of the presidential candidate who received the most votes nationwide? Under the state legislation proposed to establish the NPV, the popular vote counts from all 50 states and the District of Columbia would be added together to obtain a national grand total for each presidential candidate. Then, state elections officials in all states participating in the plan would award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the largest number of popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The NPV Compact plan would take effect only when it has been enacted by states collectively possessing a majority of the electoral votes. The 270-vote threshold also corresponds essentially to states representing a majority of the people of the United States. As a result, every vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would be equally important in presidential elections. Delegates to the 2008 LWVUS Convention voted to conduct a League study of the advisability of using the national popular vote compact among the states as a method for electing the President.

Status of State Actions
In 2007, NPVIC legislation was introduced in 42 state legislatures. Four states have joined the compact so far, Maryland (the first state to join the Compact), New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois. NPV Interstate Compact bills have been introduced in 15 other states, including NC. In California NPV Compact legislation passed both houses of the legislature but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

The North Carolina Senate passed S 954, which was cosponsored by Senator Ellie Kinnaird, providing for North Carolina to join the NPV Compact. However, the House did not act on NPV Compact legislation. The text in the NC House bill (HB 1645) on the NPV Compact differs from the Senate bill, S 954.

The LWVUS' Position
The League of Women Voters of the United States has a position in favor of abolition of the Electoral College, but has no position on the NPV Compact. The LWV's current study will lead to consensus on the NPV Compact. A LWVUS committee has been working diligently and has produced three papers, a list of resources and consensus questions (see below under Consensus Meeting), which will be discussed by League members at the March 28 LWV Consensus Meeting.

The papers are:

Other Resource Material

Summary Jan. 24, 2009 General Meeting: National Popular Vote Compact

This General Meeting was very informative in helping to prepare League members for March 28 Consensus Meeting on the NPV Compact.

Two speakers, Rep. Paul Luebke and Professor Mike Munger, presented the pros and cons of the NPV Compact.

Paul Luebke, Professor of Sociology at UNC-Greensboro and author of two books about North Carolina politics, Tar Heel Politics: Myths and Realities (1990) and Tar Heel Politics 2000 (1998), spoke in favor of the NPVC. Rep. Luebke was recently reelected to the North Carolina General Assembly representing the 30th House District.

Rep. Luebke did not use slides in his presentation. Following are notes taken of his comments:

  • The National Popular Vote Compact would be the easiest way to get direct popular election of the president. There would be one contest, a winner take all contest.
  • Under such a system, candidates would have to take into account all states and would have to appeal to media audiences in all states. In the 2008 election, the Memphis media market was ignored because it was assumed that the three southern states covered by that market were not contested. From a sociological point of view, black voters and college students were critical to the Obama wins. Although these groups received a lot of attention from campaigners in states like North Carolina, they were ignored in those southern states that were not contested.
  • The National Popular Vote Compact would not do away with the electoral college, it would just deal with how the states instruct their electors to vote. Under the US Constitution, state laws define how electors vote. In most states, electors are instructed to vote according to the majority vote in the state. Under the NPV Compact, electoral votes of adopting states would be given to the candidate winning a majority of the popular vote in the whole country.

Mike Munger, Chair of the Political Science Department at Duke University, and author of four books, including his most recent book, Analyzing Policy: Choices, Conflicts, and Practices, was asked to speak in opposition to the NPVC. Professor Munger recently received over 120,000 votes (2.86%) for Governor of North Carolina on the Libertarian Ticket.

Professor Munger's slide presentation

NEWS COVERAGE: Durham Herald Sun

March 28, 2009 Consensus Meeting: National Popular Vote Compact

LWVODC members will discuss the pros and cons of the National Popular Vote Compact and arrive at consensus with regards to the LWVUS consensus questions. The meeting will be from 10am - noon.

Meeting Location
Extraordinary Ventures, 200 S. Elliott Rd, Chapel Hill