George Washington once warned against those who would undermine the Constitution. “It is requisite,” he wrote, “that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon [constitutional] principles however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown.”
Washington’s statement could easily have been aimed at the anti–Electoral College National Popular Vote effort, which is currently working to win support in several states. The measure has been approved by committees in Minnesota and Oklahoma and is pending on the Minnesota House and Oklahoma Senate floor. NPV is still pending in and could soon be approved by Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island legislative committees.
NPV asks states to change their method of elector allocation. Rather than give their electors to the winner of a state’s vote, they would give their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. NPV’s plan works through an interstate compact that could go into effect with as few as eleven states on board. Thus, a minority of states could force a direct-national-election system upon the country, even if a majority of states disagree.
Keep in mind that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention directly rejected such a national direct-election process. Yet NPV states now claim the authority to sign a contract and unilaterally change this decision. They conveniently blow by the constitutionally provided process for change: the formal amendment process, which requires supermajority approval.
Supporters deny that their plan is an end-run around the amendment process, even as they describe their plan in terms that echo Washington’s warnings.
The New York Times calls NPV an “innovative new proposal for states to take the lead in undoing the Electoral College.” The LA Times similarly lauds this method of replacing the Electoral College, which is “more clever” than the “difficult” constitutional amendment process. Former presidential candidate John B. Anderson calls the plan an “innovative approach that is a politically practical way to achieve the goal of nationwide popular election of the President.”
That pesky constitutional-amendment process. So impractical!
NPV supporters have given themselves away by the manner in which they discuss their plan. Perhaps legislators in Minnesota, Oklahoma, and elsewhere should take the hint. As Washington observed, NPV is merely trying to “undermine what cannot be directly overthrown.”
— Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College.