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Short Explanation
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee a majority of the Electoral College to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would reform the Electoral College so that the electoral vote in the Electoral College reflects the choice of the nation's voters for President of the United States.   more
11 Enactments
The National Popular Vote bill has been enacted into law in states possessing 165 electoral votes — 61% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate the legislation.

  • Maryland - 10 votes
  • Massachusetts - 11
  • Washington - 12 votes
  • Vermont - 3 votes
  • Rhode Island - 4 votes
  • DC - 3 votes
  • Hawaii - 4 votes
  • New Jersey - 14 votes
  • Illinois - 20 votes
  • New York - 29 votes
  • California - 55 votes

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    5. Myths about Big Cities

    1.5.1       MYTH: Big cities, such as Los Angeles, would control a nationwide popular vote for President.

    QUICK ANSWER:

  • Under a national popular vote, every vote would be equal throughout the United States. A vote cast in a big city would be no more (or less) valuable or controlling than a vote cast anywhere else.
  • Los Angeles does not control the outcome of statewide elections in California and therefore is hardly in a position to dominate a nationwide election. The fact that Los Angeles does not control the outcome of statewide elections in its own state is evidenced by the fact that Republicans such as Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were elected Governor in recent years without ever winning Los Angeles.
  • The origins of the myth about big cities may stem from the misconceptions that big cities are bigger than they actually are, and that big cities account for a greater fraction of the nation’s population than they actually do. In fact, 85% of the population of the United States lives in places with a population of fewer than 365,000 (the population of Arlington, Texas—the nation’s 50th biggest city).
  • MORE DETAILED ANSWER:

    In a nationwide vote for President, a vote cast in a big city would be no more (or less) valuable or important than a vote cast in a suburb, an exurb, a small town, or a rural area.

    When every vote is equal, candidates know that they need to solicit voters throughout their entire constituency in order to win.

    A candidate cannot win a statewide election in California by concentrating on Los Angeles. When Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for Governor, Los Angeles did not receive all the attention. In fact, none of these four recent Republican Governors ever carried Los Angeles (or San Francisco, San Jose, or Oakland). Los Angeles certainly does not control the outcome of statewide elections in California. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in its own state, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    It is certainly true that most of the biggest cities in the country vote Democratic. However, the exurbs, small towns, and rural areas usually vote Republican.

    If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, every Governor and every U.S. Senator in every state with a significant city would be a Democrat. The facts are that there are examples from every state with a significant city of Republicans who have won races for Governor and U.S. Senator without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    Perhaps the best illustration of the fact that big cities do not control elections comes from looking at the way that presidential races are actually run today inside battleground states.

    Inside a battleground state in a presidential election today, every vote is equal, and the winner is the candidate who receives the most popular votes in that state.

    When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of a closely divided battleground state, they campaign throughout the state. The big cities do not receive all the attention—much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly do not receive all the attention when presidential candidates have campaigned in the closely divided battleground states of Ohio and Florida. Moreover, Cleveland and Miami manifestly do not control the statewide outcomes in Ohio and Florida, as evidenced by the outcome of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections in those states. The Democrats carried both Cleveland and Miami in 2000 and 2004, but the Republicans carried both states. In fact, Senator John Kerry won the five biggest cities in Ohio in 2004, but he did not win the state.

    The origins of the myth about big cities may stem from the misconceptions that big cities are bigger than they actually are, and that big cities account for a greater fraction of the nation’s population than they actually do.

    A look at our country’s actual demographics contradicts these misconceptions concerning big cities.

    Table 9.37 in section 9.31.6 shows the population of the nation’s 50 biggest cities according to the 2010 census.

    As can be seen from table 9.37, the population of the nation’s five biggest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia) represents only 6% of the nation’s population of 308,745,538 (based on the 2010 census).

    The population of the nation’s 20 biggest cities represents only 10% of the nation’s population. To put this group of 20 cities in perspective, Memphis is the nation’s 20th biggest city. Memphis had a population of 646,889 in 2010.

    The population of the 50 biggest cities together accounts for only 15% of the nation’s population. To put this group of 50 cities in perspective, Arlington, Texas is the nation’s 50th biggest city (and had a population of 365,438 in 2010).

    To put it another way, 85% of the population of the United States lives in places with a population of less than 365,000 (the population of Arlington, Texas).

    Moreover, the population of the nation’s 50 biggest cities is declining. In 2000, the 50 biggest cities together accounted for 19% of the nation’s population (compared to 15% in 2010).

    Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate could win 100% of the votes in the nation’s 50 biggest cities, that candidate would have won only 15% of the national popular vote.

    In a nationwide vote for President, a vote cast in a big city would be no more (or less) valuable or controlling than a vote cast in a suburb, an exurb, a small town, or a rural area.

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all system does not throttle the political importance of big cities in presidential elections. Big cities, such as Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Miami that are located in closely divided battleground states are critically important in presidential races (as are the suburban, ex-urban, and rural parts of their states). However, big cities such as Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle that are located in spectator states are politically irrelevant (as are all other parts of those states).

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all system elevates the political importance of a city such as Milwaukee that is located in the battleground state of Wisconsin, while minimizing the importance of cities such as Minneapolis and Baltimore that are located in spectator states such as Minnesota and Maryland (each of which has the same 10 electoral votes as Wisconsin).

    Under the National Popular Vote compact, every vote would be equal throughout the United States. A vote cast in a big state would be no more, or less, valuable or controlling than a vote cast anywhere else.

    An additional indication of the way that a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers (e.g., Ford, Coca-Cola) seek out customers in small, medium-sized, and large towns as well as rural areas in every state. National advertisers do not advertise exclusively in big cities. Instead, they go after every potential customer, regardless of where the customer is located. In particular, national advertisers do not write off a particular state merely because a competitor already has an 8% lead in sales in that state (whereas presidential candidates routinely do this because of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system). Furthermore, a national advertiser with an 8% edge in a particular state does not stop trying to make additional sales because they are already No. 1 in sales in that state (whereas presidential candidates routinely do this under the current system).

    See section 9.31.6 for additional discussion about big cities.

    5.2       MYTH: A major reason for establishing the Electoral College was to prevent elections from becoming contests where presidential candidates would simply campaign in big cities.

    QUICK ANSWER:

  • Given the historical fact that 95% of the U.S. population in 1790 lived in places with fewer than 2,500 people, it is unlikely that the Founding Fathers were concerned about presidential candidates campaigning only in big cities.
  • MORE DETAILED ANSWER:

    Hans von Spakovsky has stated that the National Popular Vote compact:

    “would undermine the protections of the Electoral College, elevating the importance of big urban centers like New York and Los Angeles while diminishing the influence of smaller states and rural areas. That was a major reason for establishing the Electoral College in the first place: to prevent elections from becoming contests where presidential candidates would simply campaign in big cities for votes.” [228] [Emphasis added]

    Table 9.10 shows the only five places in the United States with a population of over 10,000 in 1790. The total population of these five places was 109,835—2.8% of the country’s population of 3,929,214, according to the 1790 census.

    Table 9.10 Population of the only five places in the U.S. with population over 10,000 in 1790

    Rank

    Place

    Population

    1

    New York

    33,131

    2

    Philadelphia

    28,522

    3

    Boston

    18,320

    4

    Charleston

    16,359

    5

    Baltimore

    13,503

    Total

     

    109,835

    There were only 24 places with a population over 2,500 in 1790. The total population of those 24 places was 201,655—5% of the country’s total population.

    Thus, it is implausible that the Founding Fathers were concerned that “presidential candidates would simply campaign in big cities for votes.”

    Moreover, it is not likely that the Founding Fathers were concerned about “campaigning” anywhere because they envisioned that the Electoral College would be a deliberative body.

    As John Jay (the presumed author of Federalist No. 64) said of presidential electors in 1788:

    “As the select assemblies for choosing the President … will in general be composed of the most enlightened and respectable citizens, there is reason to presume that their attention and their votes will be directed to those men only who have become the most distinguished by their abilities and virtues.” [229] [Emphasis added]

    As Alexander Hamilton (the presumed author of Federalist No. 68) wrote in 1788:

    Β “[T]he immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” [230] [Emphasis added]

    In any event, the current state-by-state winner-take-all system does not throttle the political importance of big cities in presidential elections. Big cities that are located in closely divided battleground states (such as Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Miami) are important in presidential races, while big cities that are located in spectator states (such as Chicago, Houston, and Seattle) are politically irrelevant.

    In any case, the facts today are that rural areas are highly disadvantaged under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system (as discussed in section 9.31.10). Moreover, the small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system (as discussed in section 9.4.1).

    Under the National Popular Vote compact, every vote would be equal throughout the United States. A vote cast in a big city would be no more, or less, valuable or controlling than a vote cast anywhere else.

    5.3       MYTH: Candidates would only campaign in media markets, while ignoring the rest of the country.

    QUICK ANSWER:

  • Every person in the United States lives in a media market, including the media markets for television, radio, newspapers, magazines, direct mail, billboards, telephone, and the Internet.
  • MORE DETAILED ANSWER:

    This myth appears to be a carry-over from the early days of over-the-air television when political advertising did not reach significant parts of the country.

    Today, every person in the United States lives in a media market, including the media markets for television, radio, newspapers, direct mail, billboards, magazines, telephone, and the Internet.

    Focusing on television (the largest single component of spending in presidential campaigns), virtually everyone in the United States has access to television. This has been true for decades. No one in the United States will be left out of a presidential campaign because they do not live in a media market, because everyone in the United States lives in some media market.

    People are, however, left out of presidential campaigns under the current system because of the state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. Candidates have no incentive to pay any attention to voters who do not live in closely divided battleground states. Under a national popular vote, every voter would be politically relevant. Every person’s vote in every state would matter in every presidential election.

    For a comparison of media costs in big cities and other parts of the country, see section 9.31.7.


    228 The powers of the senate. Independent Journal. March 5, 1788. Federalist No. 64.

    229 Publius. The mode of electing the President. Independent Journal. March 12, 1788. Federalist No. 68.

    230 The Nebraska legislature is officially non-partisan; however, two-thirds of the legislators are known Republicans.

    Reform the Electoral College so that the electoral vote reflects the nationwide popular vote for President