Over the past few years, a quiet movement to tweak the Electoral College has been sweeping across the United States. According to its supporters, 16 states—representing 196 electoral votes—have enacted legislation that would award their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidates receives the most popular votes nationwide; i. e., regardless of how the popular vote went in that particular state. The legislation is couched in the form of an interstate compact whose provisions will not become law until the magic number of 270 electoral votes has been reached. In other words, supporters need only find enough states having a combined total of 270 electoral votes to trigger operation of the compact. They are now only 74 votes short of their goal.
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Note the interesting paradox at work here: once the compact controls 270 electoral votes, the states within the compact can determine the winner of the national election regardless of how the non-members choose to allocate their electors. The member states would effectively be casting their electors as one huge bloc. But (and here’s the paradox) despite the power these member states would be wielding under the terms of the compact, the presidential candidates would be sorely mistaken if they decided to limit their campaigns to only those member states. Remember: under this system, each popular vote in a non-member state would count the same as a popular vote in a member state toward reaching a national majority. Thus, the member states are making an interesting statement: “If you want our votes, you must win the most votes in all 50 states, not just in member states.”
One clever aspect of the movement is that no amendment to the U. S. Constitution is required. The Electoral College remains in place. What would be different, however, is the nature of the instructions given by member states to their respective electors. Instead of telling electors “you must vote for the candidate who receives the most popular votes in our state,” they would tell them “you must vote for the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide.” (And one would assume that the Secretary of State in each of those states would be the official charged with informing the electors who, in their official opinion, received the most national popular votes.)
Having searched various websites, I can find no answer to the question of how member states would handle the problem that might be posed by multiple parties. (See, for example, the electoral and popular votes cast in the four-way election of 1860.) One could argue that the compact might benefit from the following tweak: electors would be bound to vote for the candidate obtaining a plurality of popular votes nationwide, but only if that candidate receives at least 45% (or perhaps 40%, but not much lower) of the overall vote. If no candidate were to receive that percentage, then, I would argue, the states in the compact should be released from their commitment. Better to throw a multiparty race into Congress pursuant to current U. S. Constitutional procedure than hand the crown to a low-percentage vote-getter.