With the 2020 race for the White House in full swing, speakers at a Harvard panel on Saturday sharply differed on whether an interstate compact to effectively disable the Electoral College and move to a national popular vote offers an antidote to problems with the presidential selection system.
“We are not seeking perfection. We are seeking a more perfect union,” National Popular Vote advocate Rob Richie said during the discussion, part of a conference at Harvard Law School on the history and future of the Electoral College hosted by the Harvard Law & Policy Review.
Through the National Popular Vote compact, states pledge to award all their electoral support to the winner of the popular national tally. Fifteen states and Washington, D.C., have signed on to date, representing 196 of the 270 votes necessary to secure the presidency (and the threshold at which the agreement takes effect). The plan represents an alternative for Electoral College opponents to a Constitutional amendment, which would require a two-thirds vote from both houses of Congress or a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of state legislatures.
“Inevitably we will make this change,” said Richie, president and CEO of Fair Vote, an organization promoting electoral reforms. “I don’t accept that the current system is sustainable or that it’s too hard to change, because it just is incredibly bad,”
But Derek T. Muller, associate professor at Pepperdine School of Law, called talk of a national popular vote “a misnomer at best and an outright lie at worst” because states have such widely different voting rules.
“The only way to create a national popular vote is nationwide regulation at the congressional level, which the current Constitution does not authorize,” he said.
Calls to scrap the Electoral College have mounted since the 2016 election became the second in 16 years to see a presidential candidate elected without winning the popular vote. Since most states tend to dependably support either Democrats or Republicans, opponents say the current system also confines most campaigning to a handful of “swing” states.