How to Get Rid of the Electoral College Without Abolishing it

The Electoral College (EC) is a lot like the weather in that, as Charles Dudley Warner said, everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. For once, it seems that people are doing something, but not in the conventional manner.

In national surveys, Republicans, Democrats and independents have expressed overwhelming support for getting rid of the EC. The conversation typically ends when people consider how difficult it would be to pass a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the EC. As I have recently discovered, however, no such Amendment is required and the EC can still exist under a system that adheres to the popular vote.

Article 2, Section 1, Claus 2 of the US Constitution gives states the power to decide how to apportion their EC votes. This clause contains the seeds for the EC’s demise – and it would be achieved through an interstate compact. Jigga what?

An interstate compact is essentially an arrangement made between two or more states to work together on a particular issue. The best example of this is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates most of the NYC metropolitan area’s airports and seaports, and important transportation infrastructure and real estate (like the World Trade Center site).

Starting in 2007, states began using their Constitutional rights to subvert the EC by ratifying what has come to be known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). States that implement the NPVIC agree to give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of the winner in their own state.

This means that as soon as the NPVIC has as many states as is required to achieve an EC majority (currently 270 votes), the rest of states do not matter. You do not need to convince every state sign on to the NPVIC – only enough to get a majority in the EC. The EC can continue to exist, but it would only function as a formality in the electoral process.

The NPVIC is already law in eight states and Washington D.C. – that’s 132 electoral votes, or 49% of the target of 270. The NPVIC would only come into full effect once this target is achieved – until then, the winner take all system will persist.

Considering that the NPVIC started only six years ago, it’s not unreasonable to think that eventually (much sooner than a Constitutional Amendment at least), enough states would sign on to support the winner of the national popular vote.

The states that have signed on to the NPVIC are overwhelmingly blue. But I don’t rule out the possibility of red state support in the future. The best bet for that would be if Romney wins the popular vote, but Obama wins the Electoral College. If the polls from the last few weeks are any indication, such an outcome is very likely.


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