Last night the Washington House passed a bill to join the national popular vote Compact. The bill, previously passed by the Senate, will be sent to Gov. Christine Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law.
The new law does absolutely nothing…for now. But once enough states have signed up—so that their combined electoral votes total at least 270—all the compact states will change the way their electoral votes are allocated. Right now, all states except Nebraska and Maine use a “winner take all” system that awards a state’s electors to the winner of the state popular vote. Once the compact “kicks-in” however, the member states will allocate their electors to the winner of the national popular vote.
In other words, the Compact enables a national popular vote without the need to amend the U.S. Constitution. This is because the Constitution gives each state discretion on how electors are allocated (my emphasis):
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress….
The Compact simply provides for a state-level change away from the common, but not universal, “winner-take-all” system adopted by most states through the early 1800s. The Electoral College remains completely unchanged.
A huge benefit of a national popular vote is that it greatly diminishes the influence of so-called swing states like Ohio and Florida. It is no secret that presidential candidates pander to these states and visit them more frequently during the campaign (and even after taking office). The effect is that an individual’s vote in a swing state has far more influence on the election outcome than an individual’s vote in a non-swing state. A national popular vote levels the field—everyone’s vote contributes equally to the election outcome.
The prognosis looks good for a national popular vote by 2012. So far four states (HI, IL, MD, NJ) are in the Compact. Once Washington is on board, the member states will have 61 electors behind them. Five other states (CA, CO, MA, RI, and VT) have passed similar legislation and await a Governor’s signature. All but two states (ID and DE) have at least introduced the legislation, but even these two states have bills drafted. All this comes after about three years of effort.
More information on the state Compact and the national popular vote effort can be found here.