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Politics & Policy

A National Popular Vote for President Isn’t as Close as You Might Think

Voters Erin Collins and her mother Maureen Collins exit adjacent voting booths after marking their ballots in the New Hampshire presidential primary in Allenstown, N.H., February 11, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Headlines like the Washington Post’s one, stating “Bill Giving Electoral Votes to Popular Vote Winner Passes,” might have you thinking that Virginia’s 13 electoral votes will go to the winner of the national popular vote this year.

Not quite. First, this bill passed the state House of Delegates, but still has to pass the state Senate — where it faces skepticism — and get signed into law by the governor. Secondly, notice the important caveat in the legislation.

Under the compact, Virginia agrees to award its electoral votes to the presidential ticket that receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact goes into effect when states cumulatively possessing a majority of the electoral votes have joined the compact. A state may withdraw from the compact; however, a withdrawal occurring within six months of the end of a President’s term shall not become effective until a President or Vice President has qualified to serve the next term.

National popular vote bills have been enacted into law in 15 states and the District of Columbia, possessing 196 electoral votes. Passage in Virginia would get the total to 209 electoral votes. Supporters are getting closer, but they still need more states with another 61 electoral votes for it to kick into effect in all of those states.

The 15 states that have enacted it into law are… largely heavily Democratic: California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Delaware, and Vermont. Future Republican nominees might have a shot at one or two of those states, but they mostly look like safe blue states.

While Democrats no doubt think adopting these laws is the right move, the approach could backfire someday. If enough states passed the legislation for it to take effect, a Republican nominee winning the popular vote would be catastrophic for the Democratic nominee. In addition to winning the traditionally-Republican states that hadn’t passed the national popular vote legislation, the GOP nominee would get the electoral votes of all of the above traditionally-Democratic states, resulting in a landslide on par with Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Walter Mondale in 1984.



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