I certainly hope so. And so does The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg, following New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing into law this week of the National Popular Vote Compact, making the state the 11th jurisdiction to do so and nudging the national movement closer to its ultimate goal (now at 61% of total electors needed). Here’s what the law does:
Here’s how it works: Suppose you could get a bunch of states to pledge that once there are enough of them to possess at least two hundred and seventy electoral votes—a majority of the Electoral College—they will thenceforth cast all their electoral votes for whatever candidate gets the most popular votes in the entire country. As soon as that happens, presto change-o: the next time you go to the polls, you’ll be voting in a true national election. No more ten or so battleground states, no more forty or so spectator states, just the United States—all of them, and all of the voters who live in them.
Unless you’ve been following this pretty closely, it will surprise you to learn that, before this week, ten states (counting D.C.) had already signed on. Now it’s eleven, and between them they have a hundred and sixty-five electoral votes—sixty-one per cent of the total needed to bring the compact into effect.
Hertzberg thinks the movement has a fighting chance:
But it’s not just the voters in those spectator states who are ignored. It’s also the politicians, including the state legislators—no matter which party they belong to, no matter whether their state is red or blue, no matter whether the sure winner in their state is the candidate of their party or the other party. Either way, they’re nobodies. The National Popular Vote plan would make them somebodies—and that, perhaps more than the high-minded stuff, is why N.P.V. has a pretty good chance of actually happening.
Nate Silver, meanwhile, is far more skeptical (his headline: “Why a Plan to Circumvent the Electoral College Is Probably Doomed“). He pays special attention to the swing states:
Soon after comes outright swing states, such as Ohio, New Hampshire and Colorado. These states, along with Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, collectively had a 98.6 percent chance of determining the Electoral College winner in 2012, according to the FiveThirtyEight tipping-point index as it wascalculated on election morning. In other words, these nine states are 70 times more powerful than the other 41 (which collectively had a 1.4 percent chance of determining the winner) combined. That’s part of the reason so many Americans object to the Electoral College. But states whose voters have a disproportionate amount of influence may be in no mood to give it up.
My personal view is that the Electoral College should be abolished (even if that means we’d have to change the name of this website). But based on the signatories to the compact, blue and red states seem to think of it as a zero-sum game. And the purple states, which might otherwise swing the balance, have the least incentive of all to sign on.
I’m onboard. But I wonder how a close national election — especially one that would’ve split the popular and electoral votes under the current rules (such as the 2000 election) — would play out under such a scenario. Would states whose voters selected the candidate that lost nationally grow disillusioned with the new system and revolt, by reverting to the old system and breaking apart the compact?
This leads directly into a second concern: although the movement technically needs only enough states to attain the 270-vote mark, in all likelihood it will need at least one or two additional states as a safety buffer. Without this, any state with sufficient electoral leverage (the bigger the state, the higher the risk) could take the rest of the country hostage by threatening to leave the compact.
I could imagine a situation, unlikely as it may seem, in which such a scenario may result in an even denser concentration of presidential candidates’ attention on one or two states in particular, in an effort to maintain — or vice versa, to abolish — their adherence to the compact, depending on each candidate’s standing in the national polls and in the electoral forecasts.
My instinct is that these unsavory outcomes are worth the risk of attempting to reform the status quo, which is terrible for much of the country.