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We're Closer Than You May Realize to Electing Presidents by Popular Vote

September 21, 2020

By Joe Rothstein

“If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at.”---Donald Trump.

At a press briefing the other day, Trump pointed out that if you don’t count coronavirus deaths of those who live in New York, California and New Jersey, the U.S. would have a much lower death rate. If you also “take out” Florida and Texas, the death rate would be even lower. But Florida and Texas voted for him in 2016 and have Republican governors, so those states matter. It’s just those damned blue states driving up the death rate to make him look bad.

When we pledge allegiance, it’s to “one nation, indivisible.” The Constitution requires a U.S. president to serve all the people, not just those who vote for him. Trump seems oblivious to all that. Trump’s also missing something else important in his numbers count: more than 22 million people who live in those blue states voted for him in 2016.

Just because a state may be colored red or blue on an electoral map doesn’t mean that everyone in that state voted for one party or another. Nearly 5 million people in California voted for Trump, about as many votes as he received in winning Texas and Florida. Trump received 36% of his 62 million total 2016 votes from those in blue states. The three states Trump would like to eliminate from the coronavirus death total, New York, New Jersey and California, gave him about 9 million votes.

This red state-blue state thing began as a way for television to graphically represent Electoral Collage votes. It’s now so ingrained in our campaign conversation that one might think that red and blue states are separate political entities, each vying to elect its president. If that were the case, how do we explain the 2.3 million Clinton voters in Ohio or the 628,000 Clinton voters in Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky? Or the nearly million Trump voters in deep blue Maryland?

The real divide, of course, is not the voters, but the Electoral College. We are weeks away from a presidential election that in reality is taking place in only about 10 states. The Washington Post recently published an article about how voters in Virginia this year aren’t seeing much presidential campaign activity because it now reliably votes Democratic. No, Virginia, this election’s no longer for you any longer. Join California, Oregon, Mississippi and Indiana and nearly 35 other states left out.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has given the anachronistic Electoral College even more importance. Republicans are rushing to fill the vacancy because they believe it would help them with voter turnout in “battleground” states. Imagine if we elected presidents with the popular vote. Would they be in such a hurry if confronted by polls that showed 70% or more of voters preferred to leave that decision to the president they elect November 3?

It’s too late for the popular vote to decide the president this year. But it’s entirely possible to make this the last year of popular vote irrelevance.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia already have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement that their electoral votes will go to whichever candidate wins the popular vote. That agreement takes effect when states possessing 270 electoral votes, a majority, sign on to it. States with just 74 more electoral votes will meet that 270 vote threshold.

Ten additional states totaling 106 electoral votes already have taken action toward joining. Colorado’s legislature has approved it and the Compact is on the state's November 3 ballot for voters to confirm. State houses in Arkansas, Arizona, Maine, Minnesota and Virginia have voted for it, as has the North Carolina state senate. The Compact has won house committee approval in Georgia and Missouri. Both Nevada legislative chambers approved it, but it has been stopped for now by the governor’s veto.

Polls taken in states yet to take action uniformly show that 70 to 80 percent of each state’s voters favor electing the U.S. President by popular vote. Pressure is growing. Most Americans likely are unaware that achieving that goal without going through the process of amending the Constitution is actually within reach.

The Supreme Court gave the movement an important boost a few months ago when it unanimously ruled that each state has the power to pass laws requiring presidential electors to cast their votes for the person they promised to support when they were nominated as electors. By affirming the right of states to determine how they will cast their electoral votes gives constitutional legitimacy to their right to join the Compact.

So what’s the message here? For starters, I suggest going to www.nationalpopularvote.com and checking out what’s happening in your state to encourage the legislature to join the Compact. All signs point to a record voter turnout this election year. Everyone running for the state legislature should be made aware that huge majorities in their state want to end the undemocratic process of making election losers President of the United States.

The outcome of the 2020 presidential and congressional elections are more consequential this year than seldom before. It will be even more consequential if enough pro-Compact legislators are elected to add 74 electoral votes to the 270 vote threshold of the National Popular Vote Compact.

Perhaps then we can stop thinking of red states and blue states and go back to thinking of the U.S. as “one nation, indivisible.”

(Joe Rothstein can be contacted at jrothstein@rothstein.net.)



Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.