I'm seriously concerned about the National Popular Vote (NPV) campaign, which aims to "implement a nationwide popular election of the President of the United States". It seeks to do this by having every State pass a law that its electoral votes should be assigned to the candidate winning a majority of the individual votes cast in a Presidential election on a nationwide basis. The latest State to adopt such a law is Massachusetts, where the legislature has just sent a bill to the Governor for signature.
There are four things that worry me about this effort. Three are relatively simple to sum up.
1. Such a law may override the democratic preference of the people of a particular State. Let's say the majority of Massachusetts residents vote for a Democratic Party candidate for President, but his Republican Party opponent wins the majority of votes on a national basis. With this new law in effect, the electoral college votes of Massachusetts would be assigned to the Republican Party candidate, even though his opponent won in the state of Massachusetts. How can this be democratic?
2. The National Popular Vote campaign carefully words their objective as follows:
Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Unfortunately, that's not true. The candidate who receives a majority of the votes cast across all 50 states as a whole - not in each of the 50 states individually - will get the electoral college votes of States adopting this legislation. That means, if Candidate X gets big majorities in a few States with large populations, he might be able to lose 30 or more of the smaller states, and still win election, because the large vote tallies of the populous states would overwhelm the smaller numbers involved in other states.
3. Because of point (2) above, the National Popular Vote campaign will open up Presidential elections to a far greater risk of vote-rigging. We've all heard the slogans about particularly egregious electoral scandals - "Vote early and vote often!" is the most common - but they'd be even more true if a majority vote were to decide the Presidency. If a more-than-usually-corrupt party machine could 'manufacture' another million votes for its candidate in a few selected areas - Chicago, New York, Detroit, St. Louis - those million fraudulent votes might be sufficient to alter the outcome of the popular vote nationwide, and therefore swing the electoral college votes of states adopting the NPV approach to the candidate benefiting from the fraud. I think the risk is far too great.
The fourth and most worrying element of the NPV campaign, in my eyes, is that it's a blatant attempt to bypass the Constitution of the United States. The provision of an Electoral College is a federal, constitutional matter, not determined by each individual State. You'll find it in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, as modified by the 12th, 20th and 25th Amendments. If we want to change that (or any other) part of the Constitution, there's a mechanism provided to do so (Article 5). The NPV campaign ignores this altogether, and seeks to alter the way in which individual States allocate their electoral college votes without modifying the Constitution itself.
In the first place, it may possibly be un-Constitutional, although that can only be decided by the US Supreme Court. The supporters of the NPV claim that their efforts are, indeed, Constitutional, in that they're not changing anything on the Federal level - only the State level. However, since their changes would involve not only the electors, but also the way they would be forced to vote, and would thus have a direct and immediate impact on a Constitutional process, I'm not so sure about their legitimacy.
In the second place, what happens to the Constitution if those opposed to one or more of its provisions discover that they can effectively change the legal foundation of the Republic without having to pass a Constitutional amendment? It's difficult - sometimes to the point of practical impossibility - to accomplish the latter, which is precisely the point. It shouldn't be easy to change the Constitution. However, if a means can be found to do so, as the NPV campaign seems to believe, then what's to stop a similar method being applied to nullify any other Constitutional provision that reformers find inconvenient? Freedom of speech? The right to keep and bear arms? Freedom of religion? What if any or all of these foundational principles of our Republic could be tossed aside by a simple process that subverts and/or ignores Constitutional checks and balances?
I think the NPV campaign is most dangerous from precisely this perspective. It attempts an end-run around the Constitution and the safeguards put in place to protect its provisions. From that perspective, I can't support it, and I think it must be stopped. The question is, how can we do so?
What say you, readers? Am I being paranoid, or do we have a real problem here? It's only fair to say that NPV supporters don't agree with my perspective, but that's hardly surprising. I'd be interested to hear your views.
EDITED TO ADD: A barrage of 'spam' comments by the well-known contributor 'Anonymous', giving pro-NPV facts and figures, has been deleted. I've already provided links to the NPV Web site, so those wanting such facts and figures can easily find them. I don't want the comment thread bogged down by having them regurgitated yet again.