By Jim Ellis
June 3, 2019 — Recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) spoke one of her strongest applause lines on the presidential campaign trail, when she talked about eliminating the Electoral College. And the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact organization had been gaining significant energy when Colorado, Delaware, and New Mexico officially joined its ranks earlier this year. But, that momentum hit a major roadblock yesterday.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, or NPVIC, began soon after the 2000 presidential election when Democratic nominee Al Gore won the popular vote count but fell to George W. Bush in the Electoral College. The result marked the first time since the 1888 election when the popular vote winner failed to win the presidency.
By 2007, Maryland became the first state to officially join the NPVIC. Today, 14 states are Compact members, representing 189 Electoral Votes. The organization’s stated goal is to recruit enough states to equal a majority of 270 EVs that will agree the respective members will deliver its Electors to the national popular vote winner regardless of how their own electorate votes.
However, the Maine House of Representatives, on a 76-66 vote, defeated legislation late last week to add their state to the growing NPVIC organization. And, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), in a surprise move to some, vetoed the compact legislation that had reached his desk. Earlier in the Oregon legislative session, the state Senate passed its bill to join the compact and action is awaited in the House before the legislative session’s scheduled end on June 21.
In Maine and Nevada, the small-state argument ultimately prevailed. The founding fathers adopted the Electoral Vote system primarily to protect the small, rural states. The belief that awarding the presidency solely on the basis of the national popular vote would center the election only on the large metropolitan areas at the expense of the rural states certainly is more salient today than it was in the late 1700s.
It apparently hit home in Maine and at least with Nevada Gov. Sisolak. The Maine House majority and Gov. Sisolak agreed with the argument that they would be signing away their power in a presidential election. Both the 2000 and 2016 elections gave credence to their position.
Maine is in a rare Electoral College position since it is one of two states that split their EVs. In Maine and Nebraska, a candidate wins two Electoral Votes for winning the statewide vote and one each for the congressional districts carried.
This came into play in the last national election when President Trump carried Maine’s 2nd Congressional District giving him one electoral vote from that state even though the statewide tally and the 1st District went for Hillary Clinton. The same happened in 2008 when then-Sen. Barack Obama carried Nebraska’s 2nd District when the state and Districts 1 and 3 voted for Republican nominee John McCain.
In 2016, and perhaps looking ahead to 2020, these two states play a pivotal role because the possibility of an Electoral College tie existed and exists. Looking back at the 2016 election, late in the counting, a tie result was possible; if President Trump had carried the northern Maine congressional district, it could have allowed him to emerge with a 270-268 victory in the Electoral College. Thus, the argument of a small state losing its national electoral significance by joining the NPVIC this week carried the day over the more partisan argument of making the popular vote the sole defining electoral factor.
The NPVIC organizers believe they can construct an official majority coalition to disband the Electoral College by the 2024 presidential election. But could this movement have an effect upon the 2020 election? The answer is yes.
Currently, only 29 states force their Electors to vote for the candidate that their particular state supported in the general election. The other 21 states, theoretically, could see their Electors choose a different candidate when casting their official votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December following a presidential election.
Looking ahead, the traditional swing states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, along with now the more competitive states of Arizona, Georgia, and possibly Texas, do not bind their Electors. Thus, in a very close election, it is conceivable that we may see post-election action in these particular states to change the outcome of what will be the Nov. 3, 2020 national result by convincing certain Electors to vote differently than their state’s majority … meaning this seemingly endless presidential campaign cycle could grow even longer.