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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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    6. Myth about State Identity

    1.6.1       MYTH: The public strongly desires that electoral votes be cast on a state-by-state basis because it provides a sense of “state identity.”

    QUICK ANSWER:

  • A state’s political “identity” is based on how all its citizens voted—not just how a plurality voted. The National Popular Vote plan would give voice to every voter in every state, as opposed to treating the minority within each state as if it did not exist.
  • The choice presented by the National Popular Vote plan is whether it is more important for the winner of the most popular votes in the entire country to become President or for the winner of the popular vote in a particular state to receive that state’s electoral votes.
  • The most important aspect of a presidential election is to elect someone to serve for four years as the nation’s chief executive—not to enable a group of largely unknown party activists to meet for a half hour in mid-December for the ceremonial purpose of casting electoral votes.
  • In public opinion polls since the 1940s and in recent state-level polls, the public has strongly favored the idea that the President should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire country. Support remains strong when people are pointedly asked whether it is more important that a state’s electoral votes be cast for the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in their own particular state, or whether it is more important to guarantee that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia becomes President.
  • State-level election returns would continue to be published under the National Popular Vote plan, so there would be no lack of information about how the plurality voted in a particular state.
  • MORE DETAILED ANSWER:

    Under the National Popular Vote compact, all the electoral votes from the states belonging to the compact would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia). The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

    The Democrats and Republicans each win the national popular vote in about half of all presidential elections (table 9.25). As a result, in about half of all elections, the presidential electors from a state belonging to the compact would not be from the same political party that received the most votes in that state.

    The choice presented by the National Popular Vote plan is whether it is more important for the winner of the most popular votes in the entire country to become President or for the winner in a particular state to receive the state’s electoral votes.

    It is sometimes asserted that “the voters would rebel” when they discover that, as a result of the National Popular Vote compact, their state’s electoral votes were awarded to a candidate who did not carry their own state.

    This conjectured voter rebellion is based on the incorrect assumptions that:

  • the voters care more about which candidate won their state than who is going to occupy the White House for four years;
  • the voters would be surprised and shocked if the National Popular Vote compact resulted in the election of the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide; and
  • the voters are devoted and attached to the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of electing the President and would be unhappy if it were gone.
  • First, when voters watch presidential election returns on Election Night, they are primarily interested in finding out which candidate won the Presidency. The question of whether their preferred candidate won their state, county, city, congressional district, or precinct is a secondary concern. When a voter’s preferred candidate loses the White House, it is no consolation that the voter’s own candidate happened to win a plurality in the voter’s own state.

    On Election Night in 2008, Senator McCain’s supporters in Texas were not celebrating because McCain won the most popular votes in Texas. Barack Obama’s supporters in Texas were not disconsolate because McCain won the popular vote in Texas.

    Most voters are not concerned about the ceremonial position of presidential elector. The average voter does not derive any satisfaction, on Election Night, from knowing that some little-known person associated with his or her own political party won the honorary position of presidential elector. It is the rare voter who knows the name of any presidential elector. Moreover, most voters are concerned with which candidate won the White House, not which candidate carried their state (or district or county or precinct). Certainly, on Election Night in 2008, McCain’s Texas supporters were not celebrating because the Republican Party’s 34 nominees for the position of presidential electors would be meeting in Austin, Texas, on December 15, 2008.

    Under the National Popular Vote plan, the focus of public attention in the months prior to a presidential election would be on polls of the popular vote from the entire United States—not just on state-level polls from a small handful of closely divided battleground states. In fact, the concept of a battleground state would become obsolete under the National Popular Vote compact, because every voter would matter in every state in every presidential election.

    Tellingly, there was no voter rebellion in reaction to the enactment by Maine (in 1969) and Nebraska (in 1992) of state laws that permit the awarding of electoral votes to a candidate who does not carry the state. Similarly, there was no voter rebellion in Nebraska after Barack Obama carried the 2nd congressional district (the Omaha area) in the 2008 presidential election. The district system was the choice of the people’s elected representatives in Nebraska, and it was the law that governed the conduct of the presidential election in Nebraska in 2008. Nebraska’s law operated exactly as advertised in that it delivered one of the state’s five electoral votes to the winner of the 2nd district (Barack Obama), despite the fact that John McCain won the state as a whole.

    Not only was there no voter rebellion in Nebraska in the immediate aftermath of Obama receiving one of the state’s electoral votes on December 15, 2008, there was no voter rebellion in 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012, when the Nebraska legislature had ample opportunity to replace Nebraska’s current law for awarding electoral votes on a district-by-district basis with the winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of Nebraska’s five electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in Nebraska). A bill to switch Nebraska to the winner-take-all rule was introduced in the Nebraska legislature in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. However, the winner-take-all bill never moved out of legislative committee even though Republicans (the party that lost the one electoral vote to Obama in 2008) controlled the legislature by roughly a two-to-one margin during this entire period. [231]

    Second, the voters would not be surprised or shocked when the national popular vote winner becomes President under the National Popular Vote plan. The environment of a future presidential election under the National Popular Vote plan would consist of the following elements:

  • A nationwide presidential campaign will have been conducted, over a period of many months, with everyone in the United States understanding that the presidential candidate receiving the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia is legally entitled to win the Presidency.
  • About 70% of the voters believe that the presidential candidate receiving the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia should win the Presidency.
  • The state legislature responded to their voters’ wishes and enacted the National Popular Vote law in their state.
  • The legislatures and Governors of states possessing a majority of the electoral votes similarly responded to their voters and, as a result, the National Popular Vote compact had sufficient support to take effect nationally.
  • The public noticed that presidential candidates were, for the first time, paying attention to voters in every state instead of just the voters in a handful of closely divided battleground states.
  • On Election Day in November, the National Popular Vote compact operated exactly as advertised and delivered a majority of the electoral votes to the presidential candidate who received the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Third, the conjectured voter rebellion would not occur, because most voters are not attached to the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of electing the President. To the contrary—most voters favor a national popular vote for President.

    For example, a survey of 800 Utah voters conducted on May 19–20, 2009, showed 70% overall support for the idea that the President of the United States should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states. Voters were asked:

    “How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current Electoral College system?”

    By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote on the first question was 82% among Democrats, 66% among Republicans, and 75% among others. By gender, support was 78% among women and 60% among men. By age, support was 70% among 18–29 year-olds, 70% among 30–45 year-olds, 70% among 46–65 year-olds, and 68% for those older than 65.

    Then, voters were pointedly asked a “push” question that specifically highlighted the fact that Utah’s electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states under the National Popular Vote compact.

    “Do you think it more important that a state’s electoral votes be cast for the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in that state, or is it more important to guarantee that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states becomes President?”

    Support for a national popular vote dropped in this “push” question, but only from 70% to 66%.

    On this second question, support by political affiliation was as follows: 77% among Democrats, 63% among Republicans, and 62% among others. By gender, support was 72% among women and 58% among men. By age, support was 61% among 18–29 year-olds, 64% among 30–45 year-olds, 68% among 46–65 year-olds, and 66% for those older than 65. [232]

    Similarly, a survey of 800 South Dakota voters conducted on May 19–20, 2009, showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President for the first question and 67% for the “push” question.

    A survey of 800 Connecticut voters conducted on May 14–15, 2009, showed 74% overall support for a national popular vote for President on the first question. The results of the first question, by political affiliation, were 80% support among Democrats, 67% among Republicans, and 71% among others.

    Then, voters were asked the following “push” question that specifically highlighted the fact that Connecticut’s electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states.

    “Do you think it more important that Connecticut’s electoral votes be cast for the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in Connecticut, or is it more important to guarantee that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states becomes President?”

    Support for a national popular vote dropped in this “push” question, but only from 74% to 68%.

    On the second question, support by political affiliation was 74% among Democrats, 62% among Republicans, and 63% among others.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The 2007 Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll showed 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President.

    For those concerned about “state identity,” official election returns showing the popular vote for President would continue to be certified and documented (as required by existing federal and state laws), so the information as to which presidential candidate received a plurality of the votes in a particular state would be known to all.

    The concern that a state’s electoral votes might be cast, in some elections, in favor of a candidate who did not carry a particular state is a matter of form over substance.

    The essence of a nationwide popular vote for President is that the winner would be determined by the nationwide popular vote—not by separate state-by-state outcomes. The National Popular Vote law would be a legally binding agreement among the compacting states to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is a method to reform the Electoral College so that it reflects the nationwide will of the people.

    The purpose of the National Popular Vote bill is to replace the state-by-state method of awarding electoral votes with a system based on the national popular vote. State winner-take-all statutes are what enable a second-place candidate to win the White House. It is the current state-by-state winner-take-all system that makes voters unequal in presidential elections. It is the current state-by-state system that makes four out of five states and four out of five Americans politically irrelevant in presidential elections. Under the state-by-state winner-take-all method, candidates have no reason to poll in, conduct campaign events in, advertise in, build a grassroots organization in, or pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a small handful of closely divided battleground states.

    One way to view the National Popular Vote compact is to consider it from the perspective of two states from opposite ends of the political spectrum—say, Alaska and Vermont. Politically, these states are almost mirror images of each other. They have approximately the same population, and they each possess three electoral votes. Alaska is reliably Republican, and Vermont is reliably Democratic in presidential elections. In 2004, Alaska generated a 65,812-vote margin for the Republican presidential nominee, and Vermont generated a 62,911-vote margin for the Democrat.

    Under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, both Alaska and Vermont are totally ignored in presidential elections because neither party has anything to gain by paying any attention to them. Alaska and Vermont are not ignored because they are small. They are ignored because the winner-take-all rule makes them irrelevant in presidential politics.

    Consider, for the sake of argument, a hypothetical Alaska–Vermont interstate compact in which both states agree to award their combined six electoral votes to the winner of the combined popular vote in those two states. Such a bi-state compact would create a closely divided political battleground “super-state” that would immediately get the attention of both presidential campaigns. (Note that this hypothetical Alaska–Vermont compact operates differently from the National Popular Vote compact in that Alaska and Vermont would award their six electoral votes based on the total popular vote inside those two states, whereas the National Popular Vote compact would award the electoral votes of the enacting states based on the total popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia). Under the hypothetical Alaska–Vermont compact, voters in both states would suddenly matter to both parties. Presidential candidates would start thinking about Alaska issues and Vermont issues. We can confidently make this statement about the Alaska–Vermont “super-state” attracting the attention of presidential candidates because the closely divided state of Nevada (which has six electoral votes) received 12 of the 300 post-convention events in 2008. In contrast, neither Alaska nor Vermont received any attention from the presidential campaigns in 2008 (or any other year within memory).

    The benefit of this hypothetical Alaska–Vermont interstate compact would be that Alaska and Vermont issues would become relevant in presidential campaigns. Presidential candidates would solicit votes in those states.

    The price of this hypothetical Alaska–Vermont compact would be that Alaska’s three presidential electors would be Democrats in about half of all presidential elections and that Vermont’s three presidential electors would be Republicans about half of the time.

    That is, under this hypothetical Alaska–Vermont compact, the presidential electors who meet in mid-December in Juneau and Montpelier would reflect the outcome of the combined popular vote in the two states—not just the vote in Alaska or just the vote in Vermont.

    This hypothetical Alaska-Vermont interstate compact focuses attention on the benefit and cost trade-off inherent in the National Popular Vote compact, namely whether it is more important for the winner in a particular state to receive the state’s electoral votes or for the winner of the nationwide vote to receive enough electoral votes to become President. You can’t have it both ways.

    Currently, the vast majority of states and the vast majority of America’s voters are ignored by the presidential candidates because of the state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. The National Popular Vote compact would put every voter from all 50 states and the District of Columbia into a single pool of votes for purposes of electing the President. For the first time in American history, every voter in every state would be politically relevant in every presidential election. The Electoral College would reflect the choice of the people in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


    231 The Utah survey (and the others cited in this section) was conducted by Public Policy Polling and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 1/2%. See http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/pages/polls.

    232 Written testimony submitted by Tara Ross to the Delaware Senate in June 2010.

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