The National Popular Vote plan for president (NPV) continues its remarkable march toward making every vote equal in presidential elections. On September 21, the Washington, D.C. council voted by unanimous consent to approve NPV, following an 11-2 vote of support on first reading in July. The bill now goes to Mayor Adrian Fenty for his signature.
With this vote, NPV has passed in 31 of the nation's 100 legislative chambers with the power to adopt it. If enacted in the District, it will be law in states representing 28% of the electors necessary to trigger its implementation in our next presidential election. It remains in play as a potential reform of our 2012 presidential elections and as a near certainty for our 2016 elections.
NPV would guarantee the election of the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Grounded in constitutional authority that makes it imperative for the states to act to fix a broken system, it represents what representative democracy should be in the United States. Following are comments from my testimony at a D.C. council hearing on NPV held this spring.
A nationwide election of the President is backed by an overwhelming majority of Americans --more than 70% in poll after poll among Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning states alike. Americans recognize that our country only benefits from campaigns that reach out to everyone and everywhere--small states, big states, rural areas and urban areas alike. The current system does just the opposite. Due to the winner-take-all rule that partisan calculations essentially forces states to use in lieu of the NPV plan, today's elections focus exclusively on an ever-smaller club of swing states. The system is nothing like the one-person, one-vote system we hold for every other election of import in this nation.
The voters of the District of Columbia do not receive the attention they deserve, as they are virtually ignored by both major parties unless being asked to go campaign in neighboring Virginia. Because of the current state-by-state system where only swing states matter, candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or address the important concerns of the District's people. Indeed, the 2004 presidential campaign of George Bush was the richest in history -- but it didn't waste a dime in polling a single person outside of 18 potential swing states in the last two years of the campaign. All the Americans in spectator states meant absolutely nothing to the campaign because their votes were taken for granted. In 2008, more than 98% of campaign attention and money after Labor Day was devoted to the closely contested states that represented barely a third of the American people.
Our Presidential Election Inequality report measures the adverse impact of the current system in many ways. Here are a few statistics from the 2004 election that closely mirror what happened in 2008, 2000 and other recent elections:
•The presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the major parties made 291 campaign stops in the last five weeks of the 2004 campaign. 109 were in Florida or Ohio, while a majority of states did not receive even a single visit.
•In those last five weeks of the 2004 campaign, more than $110 million was spent on television ads about the presidential election in Ohio and Florida. Not a single presidential campaign ad aired in 25 states.
•The ten states with the biggest declines in youth turnout over the past 30 years are all "spectator states." Young people under 30 were 36% more likely to vote in the ten closest swing states than the rest of the nation in 2004.
With NPV, legislators have a bright-line choice. On one side is a District of Columbia where its people are politically relevant in the most important election we hold in America, and on the other, a District for which 2012 and future general elections will be a spectator sport. On one side is a truly national campaign, where we elect the president of all fifty states, and on the other, an election decided by only a dozen. On one side, no incentive to get out the vote and engage the people of the District and on the other, no incentive to air even a single ad. Approving NPV is a declaration that the people of the District are just as important as the people of Florida when deciding the future of our nation. Embracing the current system implies that they are somehow less.
The District of course is not taking this important step alone -- nothing will change until states representing a majority of Americans have adopted NPV. Already lawmakers in all 50 states have sponsored NPV bills. It has become law in six states and passed chambers in 14 more. It has advanced to the governor's desk in a mixed of big and small states, red and blue states. Such a wide range speaks to the universal and fundamental appeal of democratic fairness in America.
We are fortunate that our Constitution gives states the power to choose how the President would be elected. States and the District of Columbia have the right and responsibility to award their electoral votes in a manner chosen by the states themselves. The National Popular Vote bill is a common sense approach rooted firmly in the Constitution
Americans want a government that listens to them, and elections in which their votes count. We all hold the principle of "one person, one vote" in high regard. When it comes to our most important election, only a national popular vote will do, for the District of Columbia and for America.