Five Questions on the National Popular Vote with RNC’s Matt Pinnell

One of the biggest surprises last legislative session in Oklahoma occurred when the State Senate passed a bill that would return Oklahoma to a National Popular Vote (NPV) system. Once Republican activists realized what had happened, the bill was killed, and not sent to the State House for a vote. However, the lobbying efforts behind this idea don’t seem to be going away. We recently caught up with Matt Pinnell, former OKGOP Chairman (who successfully fought this bill a couple of times as Chairman), who is now the current State Party Director at the Republican National Committee (RNC), on the topic:

1. So what’s this NPV all about?

Under proposals drafted in previous sessions in Oklahoma, if enough state legislatures (possessing the majority of the electoral college votes) pass a bill endorsing the NPV proposal, then each of the enacting states agree to award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.

So, as is almost always brought up, in 2008 Oklahoma would have been required, no matter the vote in the reddest state in the country, to award all its electoral votes to Barack Obama. The idea is that America should guarantee that the winner of the popular vote wins the presidential election.

2. Where does the RNC stand on this issue?

The RNC’s most recent vote on the subject was 168-0 against NPV.

3. How are state legislators being convinced that this is a good idea?

In Oklahoma, it seems some legislators have been convinced that this is somehow going to make Oklahoma more relevant in the presidential selection process. This whole relevance debate is a farce. Oklahoma is already relevant because Oklahoma awards our electoral votes proportionally. Every Presidential candidate came to OK in the 2012 cycle because they knew they had the chance–if they made the effort–to win a few delegates. Let me say that again: every single GOP presidential candidate campaigned for Oklahoma votes in 2012. I have no doubt our crop of candidates in 2016 will do the same thing.

4. Why should we keep the Elector College system?

A. It’s actually a pretty practical answer; one that was outlined by RNC Members the last time this issue was debated: the Constitution requires a successful candidate to assemble a winning coalition across a broad geographic spectrum, embracing both large and small states, rather than a narrow concentration of votes. A popular vote, in contrast, does not require the candidate to have broad appeal. It would make it possible for a candidate to win without any majority but merely a plurality of the popular vote. The compact would require the states to determine the candidate with the “largest national popular vote” – not a majority. Thus, in a multicandidate race, the “largest national popular vote” could be obtained by a regional candidate with just 35 percent or 40 percent of the popular vote.

Under such an arrangement, presidential candidates would have no incentive to campaign anywhere except the major media markets in a few states. The country would, in essence, cede our presidential elections to the largest metropolitan areas, whose concerns are different from those of other areas of the country.

5. Give me one more reason why legislators should think twice before changing systems?

Another very strong reason to keep the Elector College system is that NPV would maximize the rewards of vote fraud in large metropolitan areas. Under the Electoral College, an illegal vote only affects the outcome in one state; under the popular vote compact, an illegal vote would affect the national outcome.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Matt Pinnell, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any particular organization. 

13 thoughts on “Five Questions on the National Popular Vote with RNC’s Matt Pinnell

  • Great article, but one quibble. The answer to question 3 confuses the GOP nominating process and the election process. Party delegates are, I take it, awarded proportionally. Electors (and, hence, electoral votes) are awarded winner-takes-all. Only two states currently use a different system: Maine and Nebraska award one Elector per congressional district and the remaining two to the winner of the state-wide vote.

    This point is important because it gets at the possible unconstitutionality of NPV. Those electoral votes belong to the state, really the people of each state, with the legislature acting on the people’s behalf to figure out how best to award them to represent the people of their state. NPV would, for the first time ever, attempt to give away a state’s electoral votes based on something extrinsic to the state–really to ignore outright the political will of the people of the state. This violates, at the very least, the Founders’ intent for this process. What the federal courts might do is, of course, anyone’s guess.

  • NPV is being introduced into the OK House by Speaker Pro Tempore Lee Denny, as HB1686. Here is the text,

    The end around the Constitution’s intent for the electoral college is clear, with the statement on p. 5, line 3 “This agreement shall terminate if the electoral college is abolished.”

  • • “The bottom line is that the electors from those states who cast their ballot for the nationwide vote winner are completely accountable (to the extent that independent agents are ever accountable to anyone) to the people of those states. The National Popular Vote states aren’t delegating their Electoral College votes to voters outside the state; they have made a policy choice about the substantive intelligible criteria (i.e., national popularity) that they want to use to make their selection of electors. There is nothing in Article II (or elsewhere in the Constitution) that prevents them from making the decision that, in the Twenty-First Century, national voter popularity is a (or perhaps the) crucial factor in worthiness for the office of the President.”
    – Vikram David Amar – professor and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the UC Davis School of Law. Before becoming a professor, he clerked for Judge William A. Norris of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for Justice Harry Blackmun at the Supreme Court of the United States.

  • 79% of Oklahoma Republican voters support a national popular vote
    A survey of Oklahoma voters showed strong overall support for the idea that the President of the United States should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.
    Voters were asked “How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current Electoral College system?”

    By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote was 79% among Republicans, 84% among Democrats, and 75% among others.

    By gender, support was 84% among women and 69% among men.

    By age, support was 84% among 18–29 year olds, 70% among 30–45 year olds, 75% among 46–65 year olds, and 82% for those older than 65. – NationalPopularVote

    Oklahoma (with 7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes).

    In 2012, Oklahoma “wasted” 447,777 Republican votes, that did not matter to Romney.

    On February 12, 2014, the Oklahoma Senate passed the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote” by a 28–18 margin.

  • In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).

    Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in every state surveyed recently. In virtually every of the 39 states surveyed, overall support has been in the 67-83% range or higher. – in recent or past closely divided battleground states, in rural states, in small states, in Southern and border states, in big states, and in other states polled.
    AK – 70%, AR – 80%, AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CO – 68%, CT – 74%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, FL – 78%, IA –75%, ID – 77%, KY- 80%, MA – 73%, ME – 77%, MI – 73%, MN – 75%, MO – 70%, MS – 77%, MT – 72%, NC – 74%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NM– 76%, NV – 72%, NY – 79%, OH – 70%, OK – 81%, OR – 76%, PA – 78%, RI – 74%, SC – 71%, SD – 71%, TN – 83%, UT – 70%, VA – 74%, VT – 75%, WA – 77%, WI – 71%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%.

    Most Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    In state polls of voters each with a second question that specifically emphasized that their state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states, not necessarily their state’s winner, there was only a 4-8% decrease of support.

    Question 1: “How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current Electoral College system?”

    Question 2: “Do you think it more important that a state’s electoral votes be cast for the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in that state, or is it more important to guarantee that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states becomes president?”

    Support for a National Popular Vote
    South Dakota — 75% for Question 1, 67% for Question 2
    Connecticut — 74% for Question 1, 68% for Question 2
    Utah — 70% for Question 1, 66% for Question 2

  • In 2008, only $4,170 was spent on ads in Oklahoma.
    In Florida, $29,249,985 was spent.

    No presidential or vice presidential candidate visited Oklahoma in 2012 after the conventions.

    The indefensible reality is that more than 99% of presidential campaign attention (ad spending and visits) after the conventions was showered on voters in just ten states in 2012- and that in today’s political climate, the swing states have become increasingly fewer and fixed.

    Where you live determines how much, if at all, your vote matters.

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), ensures that the candidates, after the conventions, will not reach out to about 80% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided “battleground” states and their voters. There is no incentive for them to bother to care about the majority of states where they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead to win.
    10 of the original 13 states are ignored now. They are conceded by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns.

    Four out of five Americans were ignored in the 2012 presidential election. After being nominated, Obama visited just eight closely divided battleground states, and Romney visited only 10. These 10 states accounted for 98% of the $940 million spent on campaign advertising. They decided the election.

    Two-thirds (176 of 253) of the general-election campaign events, and a similar fraction of campaign expenditures, were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa).

    None of the 10 most rural states mattered, as usual.

    About 80% of the country was ignored –including 24 of the 27 lowest population and medium-small states, and 13 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX.

    It was more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA).
    In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

    80% of the states and people have been merely spectators to presidential elections. They have no influence. That’s more than 85 million voters, more than 240 million Americans, ignored. Their states’ votes were conceded by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns. When and where voters are ignored, then so are the issues they care about most.

    The number and population of battleground states is shrinking.

    During the course of campaigns, candidates are educated and campaign about the local, regional, and state issues most important to the handful of battleground states they need to win. They take this knowledge and prioritization with them once they are elected. Candidates need to be educated and care about all of our states.

  • Policies important to the citizens of non-battleground states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    Charlie Cook reported in 2004:
    “Senior Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd pointed out yesterday that the Bush campaign hadn’t taken a national poll in almost two years; instead, it has been polling [in the then] 18 battleground states.” [only 10 in 2012]

    Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledging the reality that [then] more than 2/3rds of Americans were ignored in the 2008 presidential campaign, said in the Washington Post on June 21, 2009:
    “If people don’t like it, they can move from a safe state to a swing state.”

    State-by-state winner-take-all laws adversely affect governance. Sitting Presidents (whether contemplating their own re-election or the election of their preferred successor) pay inordinate attention to the interests of “battleground” states.
    ** “Battleground” states receive over 7% more grants than other states.
    ** “Battleground” states receive 5% more grant dollars.
    ** A “battleground” state can expect to receive twice as many presidential disaster declarations as an uncompetitive state.
    ** The locations of Superfund enforcement actions also reflect a state’s battleground status.
    ** Federal exemptions from the No Child Left Behind law have been characterized as “‘no swing state left behind.”

    The effect of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system on governance is discussed at length in Presidential Pork by Dr. John Hudak of the Brookings Institution.

    Compare the response to hurricane Katrina (in Louisiana, a “safe” state) to the federal response to hurricanes in Florida (a “swing” state) under Presidents of both parties. President Obama took more interest in the BP oil spill, once it reached Florida’s shores, after it had first reached Louisiana. Some pandering policy examples include ethanol subsidies, Steel Tariffs, and Medicare Part D. Policies not given priority, include those most important to non-battleground states – like water issues in the west.

  • The Constitution does NOT require a successful candidate to assemble a winning coalition across a broad geographic spectrum, embracing both large and small states.

    Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1:
    “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
    The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    With the current system of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in only the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 23% of the nation’s votes!

  • Since 1824 there have been 16 presidential elections in which a candidate was elected or reelected without gaining a majority of the popular vote.– including Lincoln (1860), Wilson (1912 and 1916), Truman (1948), Kennedy (1960), Nixon (1968), and Clinton (1992 and 1996).

    With the current system of electing the President, none of the states requires that a presidential candidate receive anything more than the most popular votes in order to receive all of the state’s or district’s electoral votes.

    Not a single legislative bill has been introduced in any state legislature in recent decades (among the more than 100,000 bills that are introduced in every two-year period by the nation’s 7,300 state legislators) proposing to change the existing universal practice of the states to award electoral votes to the candidate who receives a plurality (as opposed to absolute majority) of the votes (statewide or district-wide). There is no evidence of any public sentiment in favor of imposing such a requirement.

    If an Electoral College type of arrangement were essential for avoiding a proliferation of candidates and people being elected with low percentages of the vote, we should see evidence of these conjectured outcomes in elections that do not employ such an arrangement. In elections in which the winner is the candidate receiving the most votes throughout the entire jurisdiction served by that office, historical evidence shows that there is no massive proliferation of third-party candidates and candidates do not win with small percentages. For example, in 905 elections for governor in the last 60 years, the winning candidate received more than 50% of the vote in over 91% of the elections. The winning candidate received more than 45% of the vote in 98% of the elections. The winning candidate received more than 40% of the vote in 99% of the elections. No winning candidate received less than 35% of the popular vote.

  • With National Popular Vote, every voter would be equal and matter to the candidates. Candidates would reallocate their time, the money they raise, their polling, organizing efforts, and their ad buys to no longer ignore 80% of the states and voters.

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.

    16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States. 16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.

    Suburbs divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

    If big cities always controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

    A nationwide presidential campaign of polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, with every voter equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida. In the 4 states that accounted for over two-thirds of all general-election activity in the 2012 presidential election, rural areas, suburbs, exurbs, and cities all received attention—roughly in proportion to their population.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states, including polling, organizing, and ad spending) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every voter is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    With National Popular Vote, when every voter is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

    Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t poll, organize, buy ads, and visit just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

    Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

    There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    With a national popular vote, every voter everywhere will be equally important politically. When every voter is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as waitress mom voters in Ohio.

    With National Popular Vote, every voter, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Wining states or (gerrymandered) districts would not be the goal. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states.

    The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

  • The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud, mischief, coercion, intimidation, confusion, and voter suppression. A very few people can change the national outcome by adding, changing, or suppressing a small number of votes in one closely divided battleground state. With the current system all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state. The sheer magnitude of the national popular vote number, compared to individual state vote totals, is much more robust against manipulation.

    National Popular Vote would limit the benefits to be gained by fraud or voter suppression. One suppressed vote would be one less vote. One fraudulent vote would only win one vote in the return. In the current electoral system, one fraudulent vote could mean 55 electoral votes, or just enough electoral votes to win the presidency without having the most popular votes in the country.

    The closest popular-vote election count over the last 130+ years of American history (in 1960), had a nationwide margin of more than 100,000 popular votes. The closest electoral-vote election in American history (in 2000) was determined by 537 votes, all in one state, when there was a lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide.

    For a national popular vote election to be as easy to switch as 2000, it would have to be two hundred times closer than the 1960 election–and, in popular-vote terms, forty times closer than 2000 itself.

    Which system offers vote suppressors or fraudulent voters a better shot at success for a smaller effort?

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