All in all, it’s been a good week for the Constitution and for the Electoral College in Virginia. Over the past several days, two bills that proposed to restructure how the commonwealth’s electoral votes are awarded to candidates both failed to advance in the General Assembly.
This past Tuesday, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, withdrew Senate Bill 399, which would have entered Virginia into the arrangement known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The senator gave no explanation as to why he pulled the measure from consideration. On Friday, another Democratic legislator from Alexandria, Del. Mark Levine, saw his measure, House Bill 177 (essentially the same proposal as Ebbin’s) narrowly defeated in the Privileges and Elections committee by a 12-10 vote.
Levine says he submitted his bill because “the people of the United States should choose the president of the United States, no matter where they live in each individual state.” The delegate claimed his bill would help give “every American equal weight under the law.” This is the third consecutive session he has tried to get the bill passed. It’s encouraging that three Democrats joined Republican members to vote no.
What, exactly, is the NPVIC — besides an attempt to make an end run around the Electoral College? According to NPVIC’s website, “The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.” The bill has passed in 15 states and in D.C., totaling 196 electoral votes.
Anyone who follows politics knows the progressive left is no fan of the Electoral College, which explains the NPVIC’s popularity in heavily blue states. Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, despite winning the popular vote, only energized support for the compact. Last March, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., suggested that it was time to “get rid of the Electoral College.” Pete Buttigieg and at least six other Democratic presidential candidates joined in the cry to abolish the platform. In 2017, while lecturing at Indiana University Law School, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez claimed it wasn’t even constitutionally mandated, saying, “The Electoral College is not a creation of the Constitution. It doesn’t have to be there.”
Perez is wrong. Not only does the U.S. Constitution establish the Electoral College in Article II: “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 ...,” but the 12th Amendment also explains in detail the process by which electors will meet and vote for president and vice president.
Under the rules of the NPVIC, however, a state’s electoral votes would no longer be awarded to the candidate who won that state. Rather, each state would pledge its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote — and it wouldn’t matter if that candidate didn’t win a single vote in that state. To strengthen its proposal, the NPVIC website, https://www.nationalpopularvote.com, warns that the outcome of the 2020 election will be determined by only four states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.
The website states, “Each flipped to the Republicans in 2016, but President Trump won each by only a percentage point or less.” But what the website fails to mention is that should the NPVIC scheme become national law, the outcome of every election going forward would be determined by just four states — California, Texas, Florida and New York. The concerns of rural areas could easily become all but ignored as candidates addressed only issues important to urban populations.
The Electoral College was adopted in 1787 by the Constitutional Convention as a compromise to assuage the concerns of delegates from smaller states who, worried they would have no voice in presidential elections, wanted each state to have an equal vote. The larger states wanted the votes determined by population. The framers decided to split the difference, giving each state a number of electors equal to its combined total of congressional seats.
And it’s notable that it was the darling of today’s progressives, Alexander Hamilton himself, who recognized how important the compromise was to avoid creating a majoritarian democracy. In Federalist 68, he wrote in praise of the Electoral College as the right way to appoint the chief executive of the United States: “I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.”