A Very Interesting New Electoral College Work-Around
UC Berkeley professor Michael Eisen has been involved in a number of initially-crazy-sounding projects over the years, an alarming number of which (open access to scientific publication (PLOS), home genetic sequencing (23andme), plant-based “meat” (Impossible Foods) have actually borne much fruit. Here is his latest—he himself calls it “disturbing and terrifying.”
Eisen’s idea is a variation on the “National Popular Vote” (NPV) scheme. For those of you unfamiliar with how NPV works, the basic idea is as follows (and many more details are available at the NPV website here):
A State—let’s call it New York—enacts a statute with two basic provisions:
- The Governor shall appoint, as presidential electors, the slate of electors submitted by the presidential candidate who receives the largest number of votes cast nationwide in the presidential election. [Currently, of course, it is the candidate winning a plurality of votes cast in NY who gets all of NY’s electors.]
- Paragraph (1) shall only come into effect if and when a sufficient number of other States enact laws with the identical Paragraph (1) provision to cumulatively account for 270 (or more) electoral votes.
You have to admit, whatever your position might be on whether the Electoral College is or is not a useful institution, that it’s a devilishly clever scheme. Without the need for a constitutional amendment, but relying instead on the power granted to the States in Article II to “appoint [electors] in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” it would guarantee that the Electoral College would elect the winner of the nationwide popular vote, once the 270-electoral-vote threshold were met.
The NPV statute has been enacted into law in 16 jurisdictions, accounting cumulatively for 196 electoral votes (CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA), leaving it 74 electoral votes short of the trigger. In nine additional states with 88 additional electoral votes (AR, AZ, ME, MI, MN, NC, NV, OK, VA) the NPV statute has passed in one house (but not the other) of the state legislature.
One obstacle which makes it difficult for the NPV to achieve the required level of support is the diminishing incentive for the “swing states”—the states that, in the current scheme, hold virtually all of the power in the presidential election (OH, PA, WI, FL, MI, VA, NC)—to join in the NPV scheme. The swing states are “swing” precisely because, unlike CA and AL and NY and KS and …, their electorates are pretty evenly divided between the two parties; because the NPV initiative is widely—though perhaps wrongly—seen as favoring the “blue” team at the expense of the “reds,” the political battle over the NPV, and the political opposition to joining with the NPV States, are likely to be particularly intense in these swing states.
Moreover, precisely because these ar
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