National Popular Vote versus Oregon voters

March 21, 2013

Trent England

To hear supporters of National Popular Vote tell it, most Americans probably have no idea who the presidential candidates were in the last election. They may not have even known there was an election going on, and most of the votes cast weren't even counted.

Of course, none of these things are true. That didn't stop lobbyists and legislators at a hearing yesterday in Salem, Ore.

National Popular Vote (NPV) is an interstate compact--an agreement that states can join by enacting legislation. While motivated by disdain for the state-by-state election process created by the Electoral College, NPV would leave the Electoral College in place. Instead, states would pledge to ignore their own voters and give away their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most popular votes nationwide. The founder of NPV described it as an “end run” around the Constitution.

Eight states, including Washington, have adopted NPV. Because the compact is only triggered if passed by enough states to control the outcome of the election, it is not yet in effect. Oregon is considering becoming the ninth. The state’s NPV bill, House Bill 3077, was up for a public hearing in the Rules Committee yesterday. (I provided testimony on behalf of the Freedom Foundation's Save Our States project.)

NPV supporters claim that only swing states matter. Every other state and all the voters in them are “ignored” or even “disenfranchised.” This, they say, leads voters to tune out and maybe not even vote.

Every Obama bumper sticker in Portland is evidence against this claim. Oregon is a politically active state with high voter turnout, despite being a relatively “safe” state in recent presidential elections. I’m sure there was no lack of coffee shop and dinner table discussion of presidential politics anywhere in Oregon last year. NPV’s claims are simply false.

Voters are no more disenfranchised by living in a “safe” presidential state than they are by living in a politically lopsided congressional district or city council district. Across the country, many election outcomes are predictable once the primaries are over. Nevertheless, all the votes are counted. Usually, both major parties field candidates. Sometimes there are upsets. And voters still vote.

If NPV thinks voters in safe states or districts shouldn’t vote, clearly many voters disagree. On this basis alone, NPV supporters ought to reconsider their position, or at least these arguments.

Cross-posted from