You’ve probably heard the expression “a solution looking for a problem.” The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact isn’t really such a thing. It’s more like a problem looking for another problem. But, thanks to Washington Post columnist Jason Willick, I’ve finally found some reasons to like it.
Why is it a problem?
Here’s how the NPVIC works (or would work if implemented): Once states commanding a total of 270 or more electoral votes joined, each of those states would award its presidential electors to the winner of the “national popular vote.”
That’s clearly unconstitutional without an added bit that it’s unlikely to get. Per Article I, Section 10, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State …”
The NPVIC isn’t likely to fare well in the US Senate, where every state of any size receives two seats. Smaller states also get more relative weight in the electoral college. Why would they give that up?
Of course, it’s always possible that a rogue Supreme Court might find an “if you hold your mouth just right” way to miracle an exception into the congressional consent requirement. But in theory (unfortunately MOSTLY in theory), the Constitution is changed by amendment, not by fantasizing popular fairy tales into it.
So while I can’t say I’m particularly enamored of the electoral college and its “weighted” way of deciding presidential elections, the NPVIC doesn’t seem much better.
Or didn’t, until I read Willick’s column.
“The winner-take-all electoral college has limited the number of viable candidates to two in most elections,” he writes. “A popular-vote free-for-all could invite five or six or more. If politicians would just need a national vote plurality to automatically be awarded the compact’s 270 votes … more candidates would think they have a chance. Larger candidate fields would lower presidential vote shares and weaken presidential mandates.”
Willick considers all of that a “concern.” I see it as very much feature rather than bug.
Five or six viable choices instead of two? That sounds great.
Presidents without perceived “voter mandates” to do whatever they happen to feel like doing because they happen to feel like doing it? Even better!
Add to that: Presidents whose parties didn’t control at least 34 Senate seats would no longer enjoy effective immunity from conviction upon impeachment. We’ve seen four presidential impeachments and zero convictions in the history of the US, even though the accused was plainly guilty in at least three of those four cases.
More presidential choices? Less presidential power? No presidential impunity? What’s not to like?
None of that would likely be enough to save the existing system. Nor, certainly, enough to make it really WORTH saving. But we could do worse.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.