By Brock Haussamen
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a plan for electing the president that would go into effect after states with a total of 270 electoral votes or more approve it. It preserves the Electoral College and state control of elections. But in his September 2 Commentary, Bruce Ledewitz contends that the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would be a setback for “the will of the people” and for “democracy in Pennsylvania,” while he ignores its advantages for democracy both nationally and for states.
Most obviously, what the National Popular Vote proposal would achieve for democracy is that in every election, every vote for president would count equally. Under the National Popular Vote plan, the election scoreboard would show all the votes cast by not only states’ majority-party voters but minority-party voters as well, votes that today count for nothing-at-all in the 48 states where the winner-takes-all of the state’s electoral votes.
Ledewitz warns readers about what would have happened “if the compact had been in effect in Pennsylvania in 2016.” Since Clinton won the national vote, and even though Trump won the vote in Pennsylvania, Clinton would have become president, he predicts. For Ledewitz, that’s not an outcome Pennsylvanians would have welcomed.
But not so fast. The National Popular Vote system would not have gone into effect in Pennsylvania in the first place unless states with at least 270 electoral votes had all passed it, in which case all candidates would campaign more widely, across ALL states — since ALL votes would count– and not just in a few battleground states where campaigns concentrate on narrow issues. Predictions of outcomes in such a different election system don’t mean much.
Ledewitz also objects that the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact proposal contradicts democratic values by leaving each state’s decision up to its legislature. (To join, a state passes a piece of legislation that the governor signs into law.) Ledewitz thinks legislatures are overstepping their authority here and should let voters themselves decide whether they want to join the Compact. However, as Ledewitz himself acknowledges, the U. S. Constitution has this covered. Article II gives state legislatures full power to choose the manner of appointing presidential electors.
Ledewitz pursues his point anyway.
He writes that “It is really questionable whether the voters in Pennsylvania would [endorse the National Popular Vote proposal].” He overlooks a Franklin & Marshall College poll in 2011 that showed two-thirds of Pennsylvanians believing that the president should be the candidate who “gets the most votes in all 50 states.”
Here is one other advantage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact that Ledewitz ignores. We – Americans generally – like electing our state governors by popular vote. But gubernatorial elections were not originally carried out this way. Most governors early on were elected by their state legislatures. In 1787, only five New England states held popular elections for governor.
Then, over the next half-century, all other states switched over, one by one. Governors are chief executives for their states much as the president is chief executive for the nation.
It is not surprising that most Americans want to elect their president by popular vote just as Pennsylvanians and residents of other states expect to elect their governor by popular vote. It is as direct as our democracy gets.
Brock Haussamen is a professor emeritus retired from Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, N.J., and a volunteer and for the National Popular Vote. He writes from Manasquan, N.J.
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