Election Day, November 5, 2024, Douglas County, Kansas
The polls in Douglas County were bannered with long lines as voters queued up for the 2024 presidential election. Sam and Sylvia Appledore, lifetime residents, were all smiles, although they had been waiting for an hour to reach the voter check-in tables. “We are committed to voting in person because this is the first presidential election in which our vote will be directly counted,” Sam said. “Moreover, for the first time in decades, the candidates of both parties made several campaign stops in our area. One person, one vote—no more Electoral College!” Although Douglas and Kansas are not the reddest of Republican enclaves, both were “flyover” jurisdictions rarely visited by presidential campaigns.
Not since the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 . . . has the nation’s electoral process been so profoundly and fundamentally altered.
Not since the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, providing for the popular election of senators, had the nation’s electoral process been so profoundly and fundamentally altered as the change brought about by the National Popular Vote Initiative (NPVI) compact. Its advent has virtually eliminated the Electoral College as a narrow, strategic campaign strategy, and has forced presidential tickets to compete for every vote in every state.
Following the furor over the 2000 presidential election, in which George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote by eking out Florida’s 29 share by fewer than 500 votes and a Supreme Court ruling, the final result showed that Al Gore had actually won the popular vote. With the lopsided 2016 election, in which the loser tallied nearly 3 million more votes than the winner (with the Electoral College vote being 304 to 227), reform of the Electoral College, characterized by some observers as a national gerrymander, became more urgent. The 2020 electoral results ended voter patience with an electoral system that produced unsatisfactory results. Biden rolled up 7.5 million more popular votes in a majority of states–more than twice the popular vote margin in 2016–but barely edged his opponent in the Electoral College balloting. Fervor for reform was reignited.
The path to ultimate approval of the NPVI commenced in earnest less than one month following the inauguration of President Biden.
The path to ultimate approval of the NPVI commenced in earnest less than one month following the inauguration of President Biden. Kentucky’s experience, for example, reflected a broad desire to sweep out the state’s Republican leadership, beginning with the election of Democrat Andy Beshear at the end of 2019, and Mitch McConnell’s loss to Amy McGrath in 2020. Fueled, in part, by the Senate Majority Leader’s delay in bringing the coronavirus emergency bill to a vote, McConnell’s leadership and lock-step alliance with an unpopular president sealed his loss. The state’s junior senator, Rand Paul, moreover, had submitted amendments to the legislation delaying its passage, not to mention his ill-advised failure to self-quarantine after being tested for COVID-19, which he ultimately contracted and which caused his absence to vote on the measure. Paul’s defeat in 2022, presaged by McConnell’s, symbolized voter appetite for deep reform. The fate of Kentucky’s Senate giants predicated the GOP’s loss of Senate majority.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, the Trump campaign employed laser-focused techniques and strategies, particularly social media, to target areas and states for electoral votes. The tactical Republican campaign was bolstered by more than a billion dollars of aggressive fundraising that commenced the day following the 2016 Inauguration. However, the national popular turnout swelled due to mail and absentee balloting procedures enacted by states after the COVID-19 pandemic. Although experts agree that Biden was the beneficiary of the record vote, he received only 271 Electoral votes, just one more than required to be elected. This is the same margin by which George W. Bush became President.
Prior to the 2020 election, NPVI had been enacted into law in 16 jurisdictions, with 196 electoral votes (CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA). An additional 74 were required to bring NPVI into national effect. In January 2021, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to include its 13 Electoral College votes in the NPVI compact, reducing the additional requirement to 61. By mid-2021, Virginia’s move had prompted a rapid succession of other states to join the compact, accruing an additional 77 compact votes (Pennsylvania contributed 20 in 2022). The “national gerrymander” created by the Electoral College had taken its place in history.
While advocates anticipate some court challenges, the prospect of one person, one vote in the 2024 presidential election appears secured.
While advocates anticipate some court challenges, the prospect of one person, one vote in the 2024 presidential election appears secured. Although such a deep and elemental alteration of a Constitutional provision may cause civil unease, the prospect of another lopsided Electoral College election confounding common sense democratic instincts was more threatening.
Former Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean, as Chair of the National Democratic Committee (2005-09), initiated a 50-state campaign strategy. With NPVI driving the campaign bus, presidential campaigns will truly reflect a 50-state affair, since all votes count equally. Compare this with 2016, in which almost all campaign events–94%–took place in just 12 states (where Trump’s support was between 43% and 51%). Further, in 2012, all of the 253 general election campaign events occurred in just four states because candidates decided not to invest resources in states where the outcome was reasonably predictable. For the most part, the 50-state-campaign strategy remained on the drawing board at the DNC.
Under NPVI, “flyover states” such as Kansas now receive attention, as the Appldores commented. Again, several states in the middle of the country–especially Ohio–were important, whereas California was not, its electoral votes all but guaranteed for the Democrat. At the same time, the strategic draw of more populous urban and suburban areas declined. Candidates ignore less populous campaign stops at their peril as campaign strategies are forced to focus on amassing larger cohorts of popular votes.
Thus, a tenet of equality–one person, one vote–becomes a reality. It only took over 200 years.
Thus, a tenet of equality–one person, one vote–becomes a reality, one recognized in Douglas County, Kansas. With over two centuries of experience with the Constitution and with the direct, popular election of senators, states have notched another advance in the democratic process for the national electorate.