National Popular Vote winning from sea to shining sea

by Rob Richie // Published May 2, 2008

The National Popular Vote plan keeps gathering steam. In a speech at Kent State University in January 2007, I predicted that the plan will be in place by 2012. I could see a few raised eyebrows among academics and lawmakers in the crowd, but it's time for more of us to be breaking out into a pleased smile.

On May 1st, Hawaii became the fourth state to enter the National Popular Vote interstate compact – the bill earned overwhelming support in the legislature. Remember, this is not going to change the 2008 election, as the plan only goes into effect when states representing a majority of the Electoral College have agreed to give all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

We have four states in the agreement -- Hawaii joins New Jersey, Illinois and our state of Maryland, which initiated the compact with a win in April 2007. Collectively these states represent 50 electoral votes. That's not the necessary 270, but the plan is moving extremely well in the merely 26 months since backers' opening news conference in February 2006, having won in more than a sixth of our nation's state legislative chambers and now more than a sixth of the way to an electoral vote majority.

It also was terrific to see the Brennan Center's executive director Michael Waldman's powerful case for the proposal in the latest Washington Monthly and this week's Newsday commentary by New York assemblyman Charles Lavine. As Waldman writes in what will be part of an upcoming book:

According to FairVote, "more money was spent on television advertising in Florida ... than in 45 states and the District of Columbia combined. More than half of all campaign resources were dedicated to just three states-Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania." Voters in eighteen states, meanwhile, didn't get a candidate visit or a cent of spending on TV advertisements.

"n 2004, ardent campaign boosters from New York never even contemplated going door to door in their own neighborhoods. Instead, they packed buses bound for Pennsylvania or even Ohio, where they canvassed neighborhoods exactly like their own. Imagine, by contrast, a system in which every vote counted equally. Candidates would be forced to appeal to the broadest groups of voters, to campaign where people actually live, and to focus on nationwide turnout.

Next up for the National Popular Vote plan? We hope Vermont. It's on the desk of Governor Jim Douglas. Governor Douglas has already vetoed majority voting for Congress (so devastatingly critiqued by the New Yorker magazine's Hendrik Hertzberg) and campaign finance reform. As the governor considers his state's spectator status in presidential races and reviews the recent Vermont poll showing that a whopping 75% of Vermonters support presidential election where every vote is equal, he may keep his veto pen in his pocket -- three strikes against democracy just might mean you're out.

For more background on this remarkable effort, see:

* The leader of advocacy efforts in the states, National Popular Vote

* My February 2007 testimony to the Hawaii legislature

* FairVote's video on the case for a National Popular Vote, taped with smart, telegenic Duke students who I'm wishing could make a whole series of shorts on "the way democracy will be"

* Valuable background from allies Progressive States and Common Cause

* Every Vote Equal, the book I co-authored on the proposal with the plan's originator John Koza and others