Bipartisan forum looks at the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
The electoral college is a process that comes into question every four years, when the U.S. presidential election rolls around. And because it can override the popular vote, that’s for good reason.
“We elect some 514,000 ... officials in this country, all of whom are elected by who gets the most votes, [except for] one, and that’s the president,” said Saul Anuzis, former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party.
Anuzis was at Central Michigan University with Mark Brewer, former chairperson of the Michigan Democratic Party, to hold a forum on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
This compact is intended to change system to one that elects the President of the United States by popular vote, rather than by the electoral college.
The forum Tuesday night was organized by three different on-campus student organizations: Central Civics, College Democrats and College Republicans at CMU. It was an opportunity for individual organizers and audience members to ask questions.
There was a lot of information shared, but it breaks down into a few categories.
What the heck is NPVIC?
Before a person can understand what’s changing, they need an idea of what already exists.
Right now, and since the signing of the U.S. constitution, presidents and vice presidents have been elected by receiving a majority of state-by-state electoral college votes, rather than by the popular vote like any other elected position in the state, federal or local government.
Candidates need a majority of 270 electoral college votes, from the 538 possible, to win the presidency.
So what would change? The consistency.
“There would be a perfect alignment between the electoral college vote and the National Popular Vote,” Brewer said.
An FAQ page distributed by Central Civics explained the systemic changes, which are minimal.
“Election officials in all participating states would choose the electors sworn to support the presidential candidate who received the largest number of popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” according to Central Civics.
Brewer explained the change, grounded in the Constitution, this way:
“So, (what) the National Popular Vote would do through an interstate agreement, authorized by the Constitution, is that we would tally up all the votes from all the states and all the voters, and whoever gets the most votes, the electoral college votes will be cast for that person,” Brewer said.
At this point, 15 states and Washington D.C. have already signed on to the NPVIC.
Norma Bailey is co-chair of the Central Votes Coalition. She came to the event to learn.
“I wanted a better understanding of what the National Popular Vote is,” Bailey said.
She added that she has a better idea of what’s going on, but plans to continue learning about the compact.
Swing states and campaigns
During the forum, Brewer and Anuzis were in agreement that this would change the way presidential campaigns happen, and it centers on the importance of swing states.
“The problem we have today is four out of five Americans live in a state that is either decidedly Republican or decidedly Democrat,” Anuzis said. “So what that means is four out of five Americans, when it comes to presidential politics, are completely ignored.”
Anuzis used the example of Republicans in California. Based on population, he said, there are a higher number of Republicans there than in 27 other states, but they’re stuck behind a “blue wall” of Democratic majority within the state.
This problem comes to fruition when electoral college votes in a state only represent the majority. Under the NPVIC, all of those uncounted minority votes would contribute to a national total.
The same logic applies to Democratic votes in states that are currently red.
Brewer explained that the National Popular Vote would incentivize more equal campaigning across states.
“Democratic candidates now for president don't campaign in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana,” Brewer said. “We don't campaign in red states, because it's not worth the time and money and effort. But under the National Popular Vote, where every vote in every part of the country is important, they would have an incentive to do that.”
Anuzis said that battleground states, where presidential candidates tend to focus their campaigns, get higher voter turnout than others.
“If you take a look at battleground states on average, they have 9% to 13% higher voter turnout,” Anuzis said. “A good competitive battleground state is voting between 74% to 78% voter turnout.”
Brewer used Michigan as an example of how campaigns could change under the National Popular Vote.
“Michigan is pretty polarized, as most states are, by geography,” Brewer said. “And frankly, when Democratic presidential candidates visit here they don't visit rural areas of Michigan — certainly not to my satisfaction — even though there are Democrats all to be found throughout Michigan.
“This would incentivize them in every state to visit those regions, even where there may not be a heavy concentration (of) Democrats," he continued. "They would visit more than just the big cities or the blue suburbs. They would have an incentive to not only visit but also spend resources with staff and other efforts into the entire state. Because again, every vote, no matter where you get it, is going to count. So I think this is actually going to enhance the presidential campaigns.”
In today’s political scene, it’s notable to see bipartisan legislation. So where is this one coming from?
This bill has already been passed by 15 states and Washington, D.C., so in that sense it operates like a petition. Every state legislature that passes it is signing on its support.
When the number of electoral college votes from states that have passed the NPVIC represents a majority of 270 or more, elections for president (and vice president) of the United States will reflect the total popular vote of participating states.
Anuzis said it’s a vote of confidence by both parties.
“We can fundamentally disagree on who has a better shot at marketing our case to the American people, but in the end, at least it’s fundamentally fair,” he said.
Anuzis also responded to questions about the 2016 presidential election, where former President Donald Trump was elected into office by the electoral college, not the popular vote. So the question becomes: Is this a disadvantage to the Republican Party?
Anuzis said no. He said that because the minority votes in 40 of 50 states are largely being ignored under the current system, it would be difficult to measure the amount of Republican support that actually exists across the country.
Emily Bredin is a junior at CMU and a member of the College Republicans. She said she has a better understanding of where supporters are coming from, but her mind isn’t fully made up yet.
“I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily in favor or opposed to it (NPVIC),” Bredin said. “There’s parts that I disagree with, and I don’t think it would really change what’s going on.”
Anuzis pointed to the bipartisan nature of his working relationship with Brewer. He said the two have an oppositional relationship on the floor of the state Legislature, but they work to keep lines of communication open.
“We both want to do what is in the best interest of our state, our country and the party and movement we believe in ... we just have a different way of doing it,” he said.