Nearly every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has embraced it. Progressive media outlets like The Nation and Vox have endorsed it. Influential early-state Democrats like New Hampshire’s Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen are supporting it.
Dumping America’s 230-year-old Electoral College system has become accepted liberal orthodoxy and appears wildly popular among Democrats. Until it’s time to actually vote for it.
Last week a committee in the Democrat-controlled NH House of Representatives voted 20-0 against a proposal to join the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement — even though all four Democrats in the state’s federal delegation have endorsed it.
Every Democrat on the committee voted for an “interim study” status — or as a local statehouse reporter dubbed it, “death with dignity.”
Earlier this year, the Democratic governor of Nevada vetoed NPV legislation passed by the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature, killing its chances for the moment. Why would these Democrats fly in the face of party orthodoxy?
Perhaps because Nevada has just six Electoral College votes, and New Hampshire only four.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak took to Twitter to explain his veto. The NPV proposal “could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.”
“In cases like this, where Nevada’s interests could diverge from the interests of large states, I will always stand up for Nevada,” Sisolak wrote.
In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu highlighted the 20-0 failure of the NPV effort and called out Democrats backing it. “That type of politically driven sentiment would only serve to destroy the voice of New Hampshire voters in the election of our national leaders,” he tweeted.
“I think what Gov. Sisolak did was just fantastic,” says Tara Ross, author of The Indispensable Electoral College. “He was willing to talk about what this proposal would do to his state specifically, and I think he should get all sorts of praise, taking an honest look at it himself.”
In theory, small states like Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island pushing an end to the Electoral College makes no sense. Under the current system, these states can play a significant role in picking the next president. In 2000, for example, the Granite State’s four Electoral College votes kept George W. Bush in the race and made the Florida “hanging chad” election possible.
And yet those same, small states have endorsed the NPV proposal. By doing so, they’ve made their own states utterly irrelevant once the NPV compact takes effect (assuming it survives a court challenge, which many legal experts believe view as unlikely). Why vote against their state’s own interests?
Because they’re all deep-blue states. “For small-state Democrats supporting the NPV, it’s pure partisanship. Democrats do well in urban areas, and urban areas will run the country if there’s no Electoral College,” Ross told InsideSources.
But the math isn’t so simple for Nevada and New Hampshire, both relatively small states who play an outsized role in picking the president thanks to their early primaries. The NPV puts that status at risk.
Changing the Electoral College will create “ripple effects” with dramatic, unintended impacts on the entire electoral system. “And one ripple effect could well be these small-state caucuses and primaries go away,” Ross says. “Why would they still exist? There’s no reason for them anymore except that we’re used to it.”
In fact, there’s no reason why there couldn’t be a New York City or Los Angeles primary instead, Ross argues. “It’s whatever the political parties decide.
“People assume everything’s going to stay the same if you get rid of Electoral College, but would we have these state-based primaries anymore once we go to a national election,” Ross asks. “Do we really think that’s not going to change?
“No offense, but who cares what New Hampshire thinks if you don’t have Electoral College votes anymore?
Ross believes the more people find out about the consequences of a national popular vote, the less popular it becomes. In addition to Nevada and New Hampshire, the movement has suffered recent setbacks on Maine, Arizona and Missouri.
These setbacks are a reminder of the vast chasm between national candidates throwing out buzz phrases like “make every vote count” in support of a nebulous proposal, and local legislators having to explain to constituents that they voted to give their state’s Electoral College votes to the candidate their state voted against.
It’s unlikely this issue will cost any Democratic candidates a vote in the early 2020 primaries. But it’s an issue — like support for gun confiscation, packing the Supreme Court and ending all private health insurance — that reminds moderate Americans there’s no idea so extreme that the modern Democratic Party won’t embrace it.