Commentary: It’s a myth that ending the Electoral College would favor Democrats

(AP file photo) On Dec. 16, 1940, New York State electoral college members cast votes at the state capital in Albany, N.Y. The Founding Fathers set up the Electoral College to ensure a well-informed, geographically diverse group of electors would choose the nation’s presidents.

It’s a myth that the way we currently elect the president favors Republicans. In 2004, a shift of approximately 59,000 votes in unpredictable Ohio (about .09 percent of the all ballots cast nationally), would have given Democrat John Kerry the electoral vote and the White House, even though Republican George W. Bush won the popular vote by 3.2 million votes.

It’s also a myth that big, Democrat-leaning coastal cities would dominate a national popular vote election. Bush’s 2004 popular vote victory came from the 38 predominately rural, smaller states.

What’s a fact is that under the current system of state-by state winner-take-all, something as non-partisan as a change in weather (forget meddling), could suppress or encourage just enough individual votes, in a critical county, in an undecided state, to determine the outcome of a close election. But in a popular vote race of potentially 140 million voters, an equivalent number of shifting ballots in individual states, wouldn’t be enough to change the national outcome.

Under new state legislation known as National Popular Vote (NPV), the effect of the current winner-take-all system expands from state, to national level. Simply put, the candidate with the most popular votes throughout all 50 states and D.C. becomes president.

To activate, NPV requires states equaling 270 electoral votes to sign on; that’s the minimum required to win the presidency. Currently, 16 states equaling 196 electoral votes have enacted NPV. In a national election, the winner will certainly take some non-NPV states too, so whoever wins the popular vote could end up with 75 percent of the electoral vote as well. Bottom line, under National Popular Vote, no candidate (conservative or otherwise) who wins the most votes in the nation, will ever lose the election.

The idea that NPV would favor Democrats because of large liberal bastions like California is unfounded. The fact is, when voters of any affiliation know they matter, registration and turnout go up wherever they live. This is well documented in the 10 to 12 undecided states under the current system, where registration and turnout are higher than the national average and candidates work every part of those states for every vote possible. It follows, to win a national popular vote election, candidates must work every part of the nation. Voters in Utah will be as relevant as voters in Florida.

Under NPV, in states where a Democrat is sure to win, the ballots of non-Democratic party voters will never be irrelevant (as they are now), because the focus of candidates in NPV elections, will shift from zeroing in on winning electoral votes in a few unpredictable states to zeroing in on winning individual votes in all 50 states and D.C. When voters in every state become relevant, every state becomes relevant.

State law, not the Constitution, determines how electors are awarded. Both the current winner-take-all system and NPV (which seeks to replace it) are state, not federal laws. Both can be enacted or repealed without an amendment. Maine and Nebraska replaced their winner-take-all laws late in the 20th century. Massachusetts has changed its law awarding electors 10 times. It’s each state’s constitutional prerogative to enact, repeal, or do nothing with NPV.

The Constitution gives states control over elections within their borders. If they don’t enact NPV, they pick electors using their existing laws. But regardless of which system is utilized, they control the who, when, where and how to vote. What changes is that when the 270 electoral-vote threshold is reached, in the following presidential election states that have enacted NPV agree to postpone awarding electors until the national tally is so overwhelmingly in favor of one candidate. The votes remaining won’t be enough to change the outcome. In a squeaker, even Hawaii and Alaska could make a difference.

When election results are clear, only those NPV states with the minimum 270 electoral votes guaranteed, will appoint electors from the party of the candidate who wins the nation. All other states will do as they always have and pick electors from the party of the candidate who wins in their state. But the overall effect will be that where we live won’t matter, but every one of our votes, (conservative or otherwise) will.

Bunnie Keen

Bunnie Keen grew up in Idaho, attended college in Utah and invites all fellow Utahns to go to nationalpopularvote.com and learn how to make Utah and all other states equally relevant in presidential elections.