CARSON CITY — Nevada will be one of the most important states in the 2020 presidential election. That would change if the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact goes into effect.
The Founding Fathers intentionally created a democratic republic, not a pure democracy. In a pure democracy, the majority rules. A democratic republic limits the power of the majority through mechanisms such as elected representatives and constitutional protections. The Constitution contains other checks on government authority, such as separating power among three branches of government. The Constitution even originally mandated that state legislators select U.S. senators.
Another of those limits on the majority is the Electoral College. The presidential election is actually 51 separate elections — the tallies in 50 states plus Washington, D.C. The candidate with the most votes in a state receives electors equal to that state’s congressional delegation. For instance, Nevada has six electoral votes: four representatives and two senators. Two states do it a bit differently. Maine and Nebraska award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. The winner of the popular vote in those states gets two electoral votes.
There are 538 electoral votes, so a presidential candidate needs 270 to win.
The genius of this system is that it requires a candidate to have strong and broad support. You can’t win by dominating just one part of the country. A candidate has to have appeal outside of a single geographic area. In a country as large and diverse as the United States, that’s especially important.
But that wouldn’t be necessary if the supporters of the National Popular Vote get their way. As the name implies, its supporters want the president to be the candidate who receives the most votes nationally. Instead of proposing a constitutional amendment, they propose a workaround that would neuter the Electoral College. The compact would require states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. The compact would go into effect once states with at least 270 electoral votes have signed on.
Currently, 15 jurisdictions representing 189 electoral votes have joined. Assembly Bill 186, which would add Nevada to the coalition, passed the Assembly last week. On Wednesday, it had a hearing in the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.
As a swing state, Nevada receives a disproportionate share of attention from presidential candidates. Not so if the National Popular Vote goes into effect. Democrat candidates would shift their efforts to voter turnout in Democrat strongholds, such as California and New York. Republican candidates would focus more on larger states where they do best, such as Florida or Texas.
Nevadans should be concerned about this for more than just selfish reasons. Currently, candidates have to temper their rhetoric and policies to reach out to moderate voters. Imagine the increase in the political divide and hostility if candidates such as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton needed to appeal only to their strongest supporters.
The National Popular Vote would lead to a National Partisan Vote. At a time when the country is deeply divided, that’s an especially bad idea.