Busting Myths about NPVIC

Unfortunately, in today’s hyper-partisan news environment scary headlines seem to rule the day, whether true or not. Some opponents of the National Popular Vote have unfortunately embraced fear-mongering tactics and are using false and misleading information to sway Colorado voters against their own self interest. Most of what they are asserting are unproven, and unprovable, myths that we are here to bust!

(for much, much more information go to the National Popular Vote main website)

Let’s get started…

Myth #1 - Colorado Voters are “giving away” their votes with the National Popular Vote

The exact opposite is true. Right now, and until the National Popular Vote is enacted (remember we need 270 pledged Electoral College votes), you are casting a vote for a slate of Colorado Electors - either 9 Democrats or 9 Republicans - NOT for the President. According to the Cook Political Report, and others, Colorado is predicted to be safely “deep blue”, or Democratic, for at least the 2020 Election. This means that the presidential campaigns will largely ignore us in the General Election (why spend campaign dollars on a state that is a foregone conclusion?) and what happened in the 2016, 2012, and 2008 elections will happen again - all 9 of our electors will be pledged for the Democratic candidate.

Take 2016 as a case study. In that election 1,441,377 CO voters (52%) cast their ballot for someone other than the Democratic slate of electors (Hillary Clinton), and yet 100% of our Electors voted for her in the Electoral College. Those 1.4 million Colorado voters might as well have stayed home. They didn’t matter past the Colorado border. We officially cast all of our votes for the Democratic candidate.

What would have happened if the National Popular Vote were in place? The following Colorado votes would have been contributed to the National Popular Vote total

  • Hillary Clinton - 1,338,870 votes

  • Donald Trump - 1,202,484 votes

  • Gary Johnson - 144,121 votes

  • Jill Stein - 38,437 votes

  • and other third party candidates would have had their votes counted as well

In other words, under a National Popular Vote, the margin of the win now matters, and that is going to drive how candidates campaign. Democrats will have reason to maximize their share of the vote in the Deep South and Rural Midwest, and Republicans will see the same incentive to campaign in the Northeast and the West Coast.

Rather than votes being “given away” with the National Popular Vote they are actually being recovered and amplified!

Myth #2 - California is going to take over popular vote elections

Let’s look at the actual facts. Without the NPVIC California’s 55 electoral college votes all go to the Democratic candidate. Every time. All of them. This means that under the current system California accounts for 10.2% of the total Electoral College votes. Let that sink in for a minute.

Now let’s look at a scenario where the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is in place. What if that was the case for the 2016 Presidential elections? Here is what would have happened (assuming the candidates campaigned the same, which is a big assumption but it is all we’ve got to work with right now). Here were the results

  • Hillary Clinton - 8,753,788 votes

  • Donald Trump - 4,483,810 votes

  • Gary Johnson - 478,500 votes

  • Jill Stein - 278,657 votes

  • and other third party candidates would have their votes counted as well

Under National Popular Vote, California’s winning popular vote for the Democratic would have been about 6.4% of the national total for the winning candidate because the losing vote would have also been included into a national tally. Yes, that’s right. Under the NPVIC California will have LESS influence than it does under the current system because all those Republican and Independent votes will be freed up and counted. Again, the margin of the win would now matter.

If you are more of a numbers person, here is how the data shakes out

(Image credit: Ralph Burnes)

(Image credit: Ralph Burnes)

States just don’t vote as one monolithic political party block! Nothing illustrates this better than the viral dot-map of the 2016 election results created by cartographer Kenneth Field. Every dot is an American vote for the presidency. Hard to even envision state lines, isn’t it?

Image credit: Kenneth Field

Image credit: Kenneth Field

Myth #3 - The Electoral College protects small states

First, we aren’t sure why this is even an issue here because Colorado is NOT a small state. Colorado ranks 21st by population size, placing it in the upper half of states by size. So, by any measure we are a medium size state.

That said, does the Electoral College really protect small states? Not at all. It gives special status to small states because every state, no matter it’s size, has at least 3 Electors. This is why the 3 Electors in Wyoming each have more weight than each of Colorado’s electors - they represent only 200,000 people while Colorado’s electors represent 630,000 people. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

When the Constitution was written the only consideration given to “small” states was to the slave owning states, like Virginia, who would be small states if their slaves weren’t counted. In counting their slaves, 40% of Virginia’s population at the time, as 3/5th of a person the Electoral College made the small, Southern states into relatively equal size with the Northern states.

But this isn’t really even the main point. The main point is that the thirteen smallest states in the U.S. currently, those with only 3 or 4 Electors, are not “protected”. They are completely ignored because they are “safe” states! Six small states (AK, ID, MT, ND, SD, WY) are Republican and five small states (DE, HI, ME, RI, VT) and D.C. are Democratic. NH is the only small state that gets any attention in the presidential elections…because it is a swing state.

In fact, in 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly small states in suing New York (then a closely divided battleground state) in the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to get state winner-take-all statutes declared unconstitutional. They hate the current system that much.

Myth #4 - The Electoral College protects rural states

“The desire to abolish the Electoral College is driven by the idea Democrats want rural America to go away politically,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted on March 19, 2019.

Just as with the argument about the Electoral College protecting small states in Myth #3, this pervasive myth has its roots in the false notion that “rural states” are somehow given privileged treatment under the Constitution. This is false, unless you equate “small states” with “rural states”. As Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times eloquently said, these claims “don’t follow from the facts and are rooted more in folk civics than in how the system plays out in reality.” Again, the only states that matter politically are swing states.

Furthermore, much of “rural America” can be found in counties in our largest states, including California (where, for example, an estimated 5 million people live in rural counties), New York, Texas and Illinois, all of which are completely ignored politically because of the current winner-take-all system.

And, again, why should rural, small states benefit from special status over large, urban states? Shouldn’t every vote count equally?

Myth #5 - Big Cities will dominate the vote, and, by extension, the country

This may seem like just a variation on Myths 2, 3 and 4 above, but we think it warrants its own category because it was called out specifically by President Trump in a tweet. He said “With the Popular Vote, you go to just the large States — the Cities would end up running the Country.” Again, let’s look at reality vs the “folk civics”.

First, consider the real world example of what happens here in Colorado during gubernatorial campaigns. Did Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis just campaign for office in Denver and Colorado Springs? Not at all, both because that wouldn’t have been consistent with either of their campaign themes nor would it have garnered either of them enough votes. The same is true of campaigning for the presidency. The fifty largest cities in the country represent only about 16% of the population, and they tend to split about 60% Democrat and 40% Republican. The math for victory just doesn’t add up.

You may point out that rather than looking specifically at city borders, we consider larger “metropolitan statistical areas”, such as the Denver Metro Area. Fair enough. But what happens is that the further out you go from the core urban center of a city and into the suburbs, the more politically diverse and “purple” the voting base becomes. There is no monolithic “big city” vote for one party or the other.

Myth #6 - The National Popular Vote is an “end run” around the constitution

Part of the brilliance of the U.S. Constitution is that its design has proven flexible enough to grow with the modernization of the country and its values. As Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval), on July 12, 1816:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

The assignment of electors by the states is an excellent example of flexibility within the Constitution. The framers left the decision on how to select the electors entirely up to the state legislatures. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution reads “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…”. States who join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact are simply using their right to assign their electors to the winner of the national popular vote vs. the winner of the popular vote within their state borders.

Want to bust even more myths?

The National Popular Vote website has a tremendous amount of information, including detailed responses to these and many, many other myths. Thanks for your interest in becoming an NPVIC Mythbuster!