Changing the use of the Electoral Vote (EV) in order to give a more representative nod to the total popular vote (PV) would not be easy. Awarding electoral votes (EV’s) based on a proportion of the popular vote (PV) in each state is a possibility for a more accurate representation. There are two methods by which the use of the EV could be overridden completely: amending the U. S. Constitution or adopting the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact. There are differences in these three approaches, both in the degree of representation of one vote-one person offered and in the ease of adopting a new policy.
Awarding electoral votes (EV’s) in a more proportional way than the winner-take-all method used by most states can achieve some increased reflection of a state’s popular vote count. This can be done more easily than the other two options because each State determines how its electoral votes are apportioned. Currently two states (Nebraska and Maine) use a type of proportionality casting their Electoral Votes based on Congressional districts as well as the popular vote. True proportionality in a simple, but highly unlikely, example would be like this: a state has a total of 100,000 cast votes with 75,000 going to candidate A and 25,000 going to candidate B. The state has 4 EV’s, so in a true proportional method, 3 EV’s would go to candidate A and 1 EV to candidate B. If real elections were this mathematically clean, there would be no problem. But what happens in a state like Alaska in the election of 2016?
Alaska has 3 EV’s, and in the 2016 election, Alaskans cast a total of 318,608 ballots, according to Ballotpedia. The winner received 51.3%, the next candidate received 36.6%, and 12.1% went to other candidates and write-in votes. Using a simple proportional approach, the winner would take (rounded to the nearest tenth) 1.5 EV’s, the second 1.1 EV’s, and the mix of others would split .4 EV’s. At this point, you may be starting to see a problem. Rounded to the nearest whole number, the winner takes 2 EV’s and the second candidate receives one. Rounding this way leaves 38,767 votes for four other candidates and write-ins on the counting room floor without any representation. However, Alaska has a winner-take-all method of casting its three electoral votes, and in this case, 155,221 votes cast for the other five candidates were left at the state line and given no national accounting. There is a valid concern about proportionality should the vast majority of states adopt the proportional method; it is possible that no candidate would reach the 270 EV threshold. To change the winner-take-all method currently in use in the State to a proportional method, a bill changing State Statutes would need to be passed in both Houses of the Legislature. Such a change would provide a more inclusive vote, but it is by no means perfect.
Another approach would be to amend the U. S. Constitution to eliminate the Electoral Vote (EV) and replace it with the popular vote (PV) in the election of the President and Vice-President. Amending the Constitution requires several steps. An amendment can be proposed by a ⅔ majority vote of both the House and Senate or by a ⅔ vote of state legislatures calling for a constitutional convention. To date, all of the 27 Amendments have been proposed by a vote of the House and the Senate, not by state legislatures. From there the proposed amendment is sent to all state legislatures and must be ratified by ¾ or 38 of 50 states within seven years. The Equal Rights Amendment of the 1980’s is a good example of the difficulty of ratifying an amendment. This amendment protected equal rights for women and was defeated by a campaign of fear–fear of women being drafted, fear of having to use the same public bathroom as men, fear of not being given primary custody of children in divorce cases. The passage of an amendment to abolish the use of the electoral vote in favor of the popular vote is probably not within the realm of possibility as the country has become far more polarized since ERA made the rounds and far more fearful of change.
The third option is the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact which would award the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes. Both the electoral vote and the popular vote would be tallied as usual, but the winner of the majority of the popular votes would become the next President rather than winner of the total electoral vote count. However, the electoral vote does play a part because it takes an interstate compact with enough states who hold a total 270 electoral votes agreeing to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the PV. In 2011, Juneau League members supported a bill to add Alaska to the 11 states and districts who had already signed the compact. The bill had hearings in several Senate committees but did not go much further after that. In the next blog, Popular Vote 4, we will take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of a National Popular Vote compact.