NPV: Myths Debunked!

Myth #1: Big cities, such as Los Angeles, would control a nationwide popular vote for President.


Los Angeles does not control the outcome of statewide elections in California; so it’s hardly in a position to dominate a nationwide election.The fact that LA does not control the outcome of statewide elections in its own state is evidenced by the fact that Republicans such as Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were elected in recent years without winning Los Angeles.  

The “big city” myth may stem from the misconception that big cities are bigger than they actually are, and that big cities account for a greater fraction of the nation’s population than they actually do. 

In fact, 85% of the US population lives in cities with a population of fewer than 365,000 (the population of Arlington, Texas, the nation’s 50th biggest city).

The 100 biggest cities have 59,849,899 people, and the rural areas have 59,492,267 people; and they are not all of one party!

Myth #2: Maine, with only 4 electoral votes, would be disadvantaged by the National Popular Vote.


The small states (the 13 states with only three or four electoral votes) are the most disadtagedvan and ignored group of states under the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes; NOT because of their low population, but because they are not closely divided battleground states.  Maine has never been a battleground state! Candidates spend their time and money in the states that are closely divided, not the ones that are clearly or likely to majority vote for one party over the other based on polls and history. 

In 2016, 2/3rds of the campaign events were in just 6 states; 94% were in just 12 swing states. Maine was not among them (just as it wasn’t in 2012 or 2008)! 

Under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system, a vote for President in Wyoming is equal to a vote in California. Both are politically irrelevant because California is reliably Democratic and Wyoming is reliably Republican.  Republicans in California and Democrats in Wyoming (and Independents and Greens) cast votes that just don’t matter.

Maine has state-wide winner-take-all for 2 of its 4 Electoral College votes; and each of the two congressional districts has its own winner-takes-all system for 1 of the remaining 2 votes. This makes irrelevant the votes of those who didn’t vote for the state or district winner. With the National Popular Vote, all votes will be counted in a national tally to determine the winner. Every vote will count.

When every vote cast will be counted toward the national (not just the state) tally, candidates will work for every vote in the state.

Myth #3: The Electoral College would be abolished by the National Popular Vote compact. 


The National Popular Vote bill is state legislation—not a federal constitutional amendment. As such, it would not (and indeed could not) change the structure of the Electoral College as specified in the U.S. Constitution.

Instead, the National Popular Vote bill would change the method by which the states award their electoral votes in the Electoral College.

The National Popular Vote bill uses the Constitution’s built-in state-based power for changing the method of awarding electoral votes namely, section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”[28]

The “manner” of appointment of presidential electors is specified by clause 3 of Article III of the National Popular Vote compact.

The presidential elector certifying official of each member state shall certify the appointment in that official’s own state of the elector slate nominated in that state in association with the national popular vote winner.”
Because the compact only takes effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes (i.e., 270 of 538), the compact guarantees that presidential electors supporting the “national popular vote winner” will have enough votes to choose the President.

The National Popular Vote compact would not abolish the Electoral College. Instead, it would reform the Electoral College so that it reflects the choice of the voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Under the National Popular Vote plan, the states would retain their exclusive and plenary power to choose the method of awarding their electoral votes, including the option to make other changes in the future.

[28] U.S. Constitution. Article II, section 1, clause 2.

Myth #4: The framers created the Electoral College to protect the small states.


The framers created the Senate to ensure equal representation for each state, regardless of population. Thus, Delaware and California both have 2 senators. The number of House seats is dependent upon the state’s population.  “A direct election for president did not sit well with most delegates from the slave states, which had large populations but far fewer eligible voters. They gravitated toward the electoral college as a compromise because it was based on population. The convention had agreed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating each state’s allotment of seats in Congress. For Virginia, which had the largest population among the original 13 states, that meant more clout in choosing the president.” (George C. Edwards, III, Why the Electoral College is Bad for America)

So, the slave states not only had more clout in the Electoral College because of their enslaved population, but more seats in the House of Representatives.

Myth #5: Maine will give up an advantage under NPV, because our Electoral College vote to population ratio is high.


Maine gets no advantage under NPV, even though our population to Electoral College votes ratio is high. 

We often hear that small states have an advantage, just as this question posits that Maine would be giving up some advantage because we have the electoral college vote to population ratio is high. 

What are those advantages? It will be so helpful to ask that question when someone states this concern.  Specifically, what are they?

We do know that Maine is generally ignored in presidential campaigns, along with 40 or so other states that are decidedly Red or decidedly Blue. By looking at specific advantages that swing states receive, perhaps we can better understand whether or not Maine really does have any advantage now. 

Campaign visits: Swing states receive more campaign visits than safe states. Twelve closely divided “battleground states with 94,625,693 people received virtually all (96%) of the general-election campaign events (627 of 652 events) in 2016 and 2012.  Maine had no campaign visits in 2012, and 3 in 2016. Florida had 71 in 2016 and 40 in 2016. 

There are 10 other states will a similar (or higher) population to EC ratio; the majority had no campaign visits in the last two election cycles; and they are all reliably Red or reliably Blue states. But, New Hampshire (population 1,321,445 compared to Maine’s 1,333,074) had 12 visits in 2008 (Maine—0), 13 in 2012 (Maine—0) and 21 in 2016 (Maine—3). New Hampshire was closely divided in each of those 3 elections. Maine is essentially ignored in the general election campaign (along with all those other small states with high population to EC ratio). 

Money and Policy influence: More money and preferential policy treatment are consistently and historically directed at swing states both before and during a general election. Campaigning and advertising bring millions of dollars into a swing state. In 2016, 99% of campaign spending was in battleground states.  Maine was (again) not among them.

Most states do see an increase in federal dollars in the 2 years before a presidential election,  but swing states on average receive up to 8% more in federal funds than do safe states. In 2008, for example, four pivotal swing states – Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – received more than $1 billion in additional grant spending, by virtue of being swing states.  

A tiny example of that largess in 2004:  Just weeks before a highly competitive presidential election, $300 million in federal alternative energy grants were awarded to five swing states: Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.
Even disaster relief is skewed towards swing states. Studies have established that between 1981 and 2004, states that were highly politically competitive were twice as likely to get presidential disaster declarations than noncompetitive states.

What advantage does Maine receive from the current method?

Myth #6: It will be too hard to conduct a national recount in a very close election.


Fairvote’s 2007 survey of 7,645 statewide elections from 1980 to 2006 determined that statewide elections resulted in a recount once in every 332 elections (23 out of 7,645).

Applied to national presidential elections, this number would mean we might have to conduct a national presidential election recount once every 1,328 years. 

Recounts occur in the states with close results, not nationally or in states that were not close. 

The only remaining step required by the National Popular Vote bill is to add up the vote totals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia; no new counting procedures are required. States continue to manage their elections and the the vote count. More fundamentally, in the 21st century, the United States has no excuse for conducting elections that cannot be recounted. 

Certainly, large population states like California and Texas do not shy away from statewide popular elections out of fear of running recounts. And, Congress has the authority to establish standards for recounts in the highly unlikely event one were needed (and should).

Even with a single pool of almost 130,000,000 votes, it is possible that the nationwide popular vote could be extremely close in some future presidential election (say, a few hundred votes or perhaps a few thousand votes; Thirty-eight to forty states are decidely red or decidedly blue, and not remotely close). In that event, the initial vote count and the recount would be handled in the same way as they are currently handled; that is, under generally serviceable laws that govern all elections.

As U.S. Senator David Durenberger (R-Minnesota) said in the Senate in 1979: “There is no reason to doubt the ability of the States and localities to manage a recount, and nothing to suggest that a candidate would frivolously incur the expense of requesting one. And even if this were not the case, the potential danger in selecting a President rejected by a majority of the voters far outweighs the potential inconvenience in administering a recount.”

Myth #7: National Popular Vote decreases turnout.


It is no mystery why voter turnout is higher in battleground states compared to the rest of the country. A 2005 Brookings Institution report entitled Thinking About Political Polarization pointed out:  “The electoral college can depress voter participation in much of the nation. Overall, the percentage of voters who participated in last fall’s election was almost 5 percent higher than the turnout in 2000. Yet, most of the increase was limited to the battleground states. Because the electoral college has effectively narrowed elections like the last one to a quadrennial contest for the votes of a relatively small number of states, people elsewhere are likely to feel that their votes don’t matter.”

In 2012, USA Today reported the following about that year’s election: “Swing-state voters are a bit more enthusiastic about voting this year than those living elsewhere, perhaps reflecting the attention they’re given in TV ads and candidate visits. Nearly half of those in battleground states are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for president this year."

Numerous analysts have observed that voter turnout in spectator states is adversely affected because voters of both parties in such states realize that their votes do not matter in presidential elections.

There is nothing new about the fact that voter turnout is higher in closely divided battleground states. Indeed, it is direct consequence of the state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. 

Discussing voter turnout in the 1824 presidential election, historian Donald Ratcliffe wrote:
“The overall level of turnout in the election was low. ... The reason was that in most states, the outcome in the [presidential election] was already fairly clear, and voting did not seem a priority." 

"Only half a dozen states experienced a real popular contest: in the Old Northwest (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois), in New Jersey and Maryland, and in North Carolina. In these states, turnout in the presidential election rose to over 40 percent, compared with less than 24 percent in the ten other states that held a popular election.” 

In America Goes to the Polls: A Report on Voter Turnout in the 2008 Election, the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network found that in 2008: “Voter turnout in the 15 battleground states averaged seven points higher than in the 35 non-battleground states.” Concerning the 2004 election, Daniel E. Bergan reported in Public Opinion Quarterly that“Battleground states had turnout rates that are five percentage points higher than those of non-battleground states.” 

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate reported, “Turnout in battleground states increased by 6.3 percentage points, while turnout in the other states (and the District of Columbia) increased by only 3.8 percentage points.”  

Myth #8: This is the way the founders wanted it to be.


Nothing about our current electoral system is like what the Founders envisioned. The Founders wanted the legislature to select electors, or candidates, who would be the "most enlightened and respectable citizens." There would be no input from the people, or citizens.

But by 1836, all the states were using a statewide“winner take all” system to choose their electors, a system never advocated or envisioned by the founders. Instead of being a deliberative body, the Electoral College in practice was (and is) composed of presidential electors who voted in lockstep to rubber stamp the choices that were made by the nominating caucuses of the political parties. The Founding Fathers did not design nor anticipate—much less favor—the most salient feature of our nation’s present-day system of electing the President, namely state winner-take-all statutes (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes within each separate state).

The Founding Fathers never intended that all of a state’s presidential electors would mindlessly vote, in lockstep, for the candidate nominated by an extra-constitutional meeting (a political party’s nominating caucus or convention).

In the debates of the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers, there is no mention of the winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. When the Founding Fathers went back to their states in 1789 to organize the nation’s first presidential election, only three state legislatures chose to employ the winner-take-all method. Each of these three states repealed it by 1800.

Instead, the Founding Fathers envisioned an Electoral College composed of “wise men” who would act as a deliberative body and exercise independent and detached judgment as to the best person to serve as President.

As John Jay (the presumed author of Federalist No. 64) wrote in 1788:
“As the select assemblies for choosing the President … will in general be composed of the most enlightened and respectable citizens, there is reason to presume that their attention and their votes will be directed to those men only who have become the most distinguished by their abilities and virtues.” [Emphasis added]

As Alexander Hamilton (the presumed author of Federalist No. 68) wrote in 1788:
“[T]he immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” [Emphasis added]

In this regard, the Electoral College was patterned after ecclesiastical and royal elections. For example, the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church constitutes the world’s oldest and longest-running electoral college. Cardinals (with lifetime appointments) deliberate to choose the Pope. The Holy Roman Emperor was elected by a similar small and distinguished group of “electors.” In many kingdoms in Europe, a small group of “electors” would, upon the death of the king, choose the person best suited to be king from a pool consisting of certain members of the royal family or nobility.

If Americans want to select a president the way the Founders envisioned, we’d need to give up the statewide popular vote, and return to the days when the legislature selected the Electors without input from the people.  Let’s not!

Myth #9: The state-by-state winner-take-all rule prevents tyranny of the majority.


Winner-take-all statutes enable a mere plurality of voters in each state to control 100% of a state’s electoral vote, thereby extinguishing the voice of the remainder of the state’s voters. The state-by-state winner-take-all rule does not prevent a “tyranny of the majority” but instead is an example of it. As Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton said in 1824, “This is a case of votes taken away, added to those of the majority, and given to a person to whom the minority is opposed.”

It is impossible to discern any specific threat of “tyranny of the majority” that was posed by the first-place candidates in the 5 elections in which the Electoral College elected the second-place candidate to the Presidency (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016). Under the American system of government, protection against a “tyranny of the majority” comes from specific protections of individual rights contained in the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights; the “checks and balances” provided by dividing government into three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial); the existence of an independent judiciary; and the fact that the United States is a “compound republic” in which governmental power is divided between two distinct levels of government state and national.

Myth 10: A national popular vote would be mob rule.


This myth apparently originates from the failure (by some) to realize that the American people cast votes for President in 100% of the states, and that they have done so in 100% of the states since the 1880 election (the last time a state legislature, rather than voters, chose electors).
In case anyone thinks it is appropriate to characterize the American electorate as a “mob,” it is now long-settled political reality that the “mob” rules in American presidential elections.

The choice presented by the National Popular Vote is not whether the “mob” is going to control presidential elections, but whether the mob’s votes are going to be tallied on a state-by-state basis versus a nationwide basis.

The National Popular Vote bill is concerned with the relative political importance of popular votes cast in different states for presidential electors. The currently prevailing winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a state) makes votes unequal from state to state. Under the current system, presidential candidates concentrate their attention on voters in a small handful of closely divided battleground states, while ignoring voters in all the other states.

The National Popular Vote plan would address the shortcomings of the current system by making every vote equally important in every state in every presidential election.

Thus, the issue presented by the National Popular Vote proposal is not whether the “mob” will vote for President, but whether the “mobs” in certain closely divided battleground states should be more important than the “mobs” in the remaining states.


Myth 11: California and New York will dominate the election.


Not true! In fact, the "winner take all" method distorts the weight of voters in all states, including the big states like New York and California, silencing the votes of the minority while magnifying the votes of the majority winner.

In 2016, the Democratic candidate won both NY and CA for a total of 89 Electoral votes. Winner take all meant that the Republican candidate won 0% of the 538 Electoral votes. Winner take all meant that the Democratic candidate won 16.5% of the 538 electoral votes.

139 million people voted for president in 2016.  In California, the Democrat won 7.3 million and the Republican won 3.9 million votes. In New York, Democrats won 4.1 million vs 2.6 million votes. Had the president been elected by national popular vote, the votes for the Democrat would have been 6.3% of the national popular vote, and the votes for the Republican would have been 4.7%of the national popular vote.   

The National Popular Vote makes every vote cast for each candidate equal, reflecting each candidate’s true percentage of cast votes against. No more 0%s.