A Calamitous Compact

psc-494-cover_webA Calamitous Compact

Darin DeWitt, California State University, Long Beach
Thomas Schwartz, University of California, Los Angeles

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (joined so far by ten states and D.C.) would replace the current presidential-election system, with nationwide plurality rule, and it would do so without amending the Constitution. Reasons abound to reject this proposal.

One problem is that plurality rule is anti-majoritarian. In typical three-way contests it often rejects candidates who beat every rival by a majority – candidates which the current system actually has a tendency to favor. Historical examples of electoral votes reversing popular votes have been misreported – 2000 was the only clear case – and never has a popular majority been reversed.

Another problem is that complaints against the current system, even if sound, can be remedied at less cost by other means.

The compact would open the door to mischief of several sorts. One is legal instability: any state could withdraw from the compact whenever a partisan majority wished, even late in an election year. Another is sabotage by Republican electors whose party opposes the compact on principle. Worse is the increased likelihood of very close popular votes. They would necessitate nationwide recounts, a practical impossibility, and a legal one too, inasmuch as non-compact states could not be compelled to cooperate. Then there is the increased incentive to manipulate vote counts and the reduced incentive to make broad appeals to diverse segments of the electorate. Besides those consequences there is a constitutional obstacle: interstate compacts of this sort require Congressional consent.


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PS: Political Science & PoliticsVolume 49, Issue 4 (Elections in Focus) / October 2016 pp. 791-796