There is only one elected office in this country where the candidate who earns the most votes can be declared the loser. That office is the president of the United States. The reason for this is the current operation of the Electoral College, a state-by-state, mostly winner-take-all system of divvying up electors that is decided by the states, not mandated by our Constitution.
Five times in American history the Electoral College has overruled the will of the people, including the initial elections of two of our past three presidents. The Electoral College, without a doubt, has shown itself to be the most profound anti-democratic force of modern elections.
Our founders imagined a different Electoral College, with a collection of enlightened citizens exercising independent judgment to steer the country away from its baser instincts and popular pressure. But today’s Electoral College is not structured in that manner. Instead, it is made up of loyal and devoted partisans who support their presidential candidate nearly all the time.
What our founders did not anticipate is just how unequal and unfair the Electoral College system would become to the foundational principles of our republic, the belief in one person and one vote — with the ballot box being America’s great guarantor that all people are indeed created equal.
Today, electoral votes are allocated in a manner that significantly benefits small states over large ones, causing unequal representation. For example, Wyoming, with 584,000 residents, receives three electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 195,000 people. In contrast, Ohio casts 18 electoral votes with a population of 11.59 million, or one electoral vote for every 644,000 people. Should votes from Wyoming really be three times as important as votes from Ohio?
Additionally, the current system forces presidential candidates to campaign in only a small number of competitive states, rather than the nation as a whole. This tactical reality causes voter apathy in nontargeted states, which erodes public trust in the entire electoral system of government, not just the system for electing the president. In a way, our current system is more apt to elect the president of swing states rather than the president of the United States.
There is a different way. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a compact individual states can opt into that would have each member state allocate their entire Electoral College delegation to the winner of the national popular vote. This change would occur only after enough states joined the compact so their combined number of electoral votes equaled 270 — the amount necessary to elect the president.
To date, 15 states, along with the District of Columbia, have joined the compact, making for a total of 196 electoral votes. That means the compact needs only 74 more votes to go into effect. When that happens, we will finally eliminate what has become, in reality, a bizarre system of 50-plus miniature elections for president, and instead replace it with one national election — an election in which every voter from sea to shining sea has their voice heard and their vote counted equally.
The winner would be determined just as it is in every other federal election in our country — by the candidate who earns the trust and the votes of the greatest portion of the American people — the winner of the popular vote.
Moving to a national popular vote levels the playing field, nationalizes our elections and ensures that every American’s vote, no matter where the voter lives, counts just the same as any other. We cannot continue to place our trust in an outdated system that continues to obstruct the will of the American people. The National Popular Vote Compact is one of the best ways to do what the founders intended above all else — to forge a more perfect union.
David Leland represents the 22nd District of the Ohio House of Representatives. He has advocated on behalf of the National Popular Vote Compact since 2010 and has sponsored legislation in three General Assemblies to have Ohio join the National Popular Vote Compact. He is the former chair of the Ohio Democratic Party.