Sometimes the biggest changes happen when no one is looking. A small but committed national group has descended upon the Minnesota Legislature with a plan to quietly change how America elects its president. With 10 paid lobbyists and many more paid consultants in state, the National Popular Vote movement appears determined to make Minnesota the next to sign on to its interstate compact.
The purpose of this compact is simple: It would dictate that Minnesota's 10 presidential electors be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote for president, rather than to the candidate who received the highest number of votes from Minnesotans. It is an end run around the purposefully difficult process of amending the U.S. Constitution. Our legislators should prevent this from becoming law.
Since 2006, a tax-exempt nonprofit with a well-funded lobbying arm has attempted to "right the wrong" of the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, in which Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College tally. The results will be debated in constitutional law classes for many years to come. Yet the scenario has occurred only four times since the Constitution was ratified 225 years ago. It had been more than a century since it had happened prior to Bush vs. Gore — a pretty good track record for the Electoral College system.
Supporters of NPV have gained ground with legislators by saying that "[I]n a democracy, the winner should win — not the candidate who can game the system to get the most electoral votes." This quote is from Thomas Golisano, a New York millionaire activist and one of the principal funders of NPV.
What supporters of NPV don't want you to know is what Golisano said after that sentence: "We can easily change to a system where the candidate with the most votes always win" (emphasis added).
Golisano and his troops are attempting to "easily change" our voting system by circumventing the difficult process of actually amending the U.S. Constitution. Why? Because they acknowledge that a constitutional amendment would never be enacted, since a majority of states would lose their ability to remain "players" in the presidential sweepstakes. In essence, small states would be forgotten while presidential candidates focused their attention on the large media markets and densely populated coastal states. According to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation, 29 states "lose influence from the move to direct election."
So Golisano and his troops are pursuing an NPV "state compact" in place of the arduous task of amending the Constitution.
Our founding fathers specifically rejected direct election of the president, fearing the control large states would have over those more sparsely populated. At the Constitutional Convention, delegate Charles Pinckney of South Carolina said that the "most populous States by combining in favor of the same individual will be able to carry their points." Minnesotans can be thankful that delegates rejected the idea of a national direct election. The Electoral College system, as well as an extremely engaged state electorate, has made Minnesota a player in nearly every presidential election, even for Republican presidential candidates who haven't seen victory in Minnesota since 1972.
The uniqueness of America's political process must not be taken for granted. Presidential elections matter in every corner of this country. It's important that candidates appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate from all regions. Our presidential election process is really 50 diverse state elections occurring on the same day. It was designed to be a difficult process, and it remains so. But most important, it's a process that is extremely difficult to manipulate — it requires campaigns to focus on garnering a majority of the Electoral College votes, which allows small states like Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin to remain "players" as campaign strategists understand that candidates can cobble together smaller states to achieve victory.
Under the NPV plan, a presidential campaign would likely never darken the doors of Bemidji or Rochester. It could focus on the millions of voters in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. This compact seeks to destroy the genius of the existing electoral process and federalize our presidential election.
Our diversified state-based system of elections helps preserve liberty by decentralizing our presidential election. Under our republican form of government, states were given the power to run elections, and that system continues to function pretty well.
We cannot allow a well-funded and determined group of individuals to quietly undermine a central tenet of our Constitution with their solution in search of a problem.
Annette Meeks is CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.