Dateline: August 11, 2010
The Electoral College system - the way we really elect our president - has always had its detractors and lost even more public support after the 2000 election, when George W. Bush lost the nationwide popular vote to Al Gore, but won the electoral vote to become the 43rd President of the United States. Now, the states are considering the National Popular Vote plan, a system that, while not doing away with the Electoral College system, would modify it to ensure that the candidate winning the national popular vote is ultimately elected president.
What is the National Popular Vote Plan?
The National Popular Vote plan is a bill passed by participating state legislatures agreeing that they will cast all of their electoral votes for the presidential candidate winning the nationwide popular vote. If enacted by enough states, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
How the National Popular Vote Plan Would Work
To take effect, the National Popular Vote bill must be enacted by the state legislatures of states controlling a total of 270 electoral votes - a majority of the overall 538 electoral votes and the number currently required to elect a president. Once enacted, the participating states would cast all of their electoral votes for the presidential candidate winning the nationwide popular vote, this ensuring that candidate the required 270 electoral votes. (See: Electoral Votes by State)
The National Popular Vote plan would eliminate what critics of the Electoral College system point to as the "winner-take-all" rule - the awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in that state. Currently, 48 of the 50 states follow the winner-take-all rule. Only Nebraska and Maine do not. Because of the winner-take-all rule, a candidate can be elected president without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in 4 of the nation's 56 presidential elections, most recently in 2000.
The National Popular Vote plan does not do away with the Electoral College system, an action that would require a constitutional amendment. Instead, it modifies the winner-take-all rule in a way its supporters say would assure that every vote will matter in every state in every presidential election.
Is the National Popular Vote Plan Constitutional?
Like most issues involving politics, the U.S. Constitution is largely silent on the political issues of presidential elections. This was the intent of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution specifically leaves details like how the electoral votes are cast up to the states. According to Article II, Section 1, "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress." As a result, an agreement between a group of states to cast all of their electoral votes in a similar manner, as proposed by the National Popular Vote plan passes constitutional muster.
The winner-take-all rule is not required by the Constitution and was actually used by only three states in the nation's first presidential election in 1789. Today, the fact that Nebraska and Maine do not use the winner-take-all system serves as proof that modifying the Electoral College system, as proposed by the National Popular Vote plan is constitutional and does not require a constitutional amendment.
Where the National Popular Vote Plan Stands
As of this writing, the National Popular Vote bill has been passed by the legislatures of six states six states: Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington. Combined, these six states control 73 electoral votes or 27 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate the plan. The National Popular Vote bill has also been passed by at least one chamber of the legislatures of 14 other states.