Opinion: In every election candidate with most votes wins, except in race for president

Suzanne Fisher
Suzanne Fisher

There are over 500,000 elected offices in the United States. For all but one of them the candidate with the most votes wins. The only office where this is not assured is the president of the entire nation.

The shortcomings of the current system of electing the president stem from state “winner-take-all” laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each state. Forty-eight states currently use this system. Because of these state winner-take-all laws, presidential candidates ignore voters in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

The general-election campaign for president ends up in only a dozen or fewer states. We are actually electing the President of the Battleground States, not the United States. Five times in our history the president has been the second-place finisher. This has happened twice in this century.

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The state-by-state aspect of the current system starts by dividing the nation’s more than 158,000,000 voters into 51 separate state-level silos. The current state-by-state winner-take-all system regularly enables a few thousand votes in a small number of states to decide the presidency — thereby fueling post-election controversies. The fact that a few thousand votes in a handful of closely divided states regularly decide the presidency is a recurring feature of the current system.

The presidency has been decided by an average of a mere 287,969 popular votes spread over an average of three states in the six presidential elections between 2000 and 2020. Inevitably, some of these battleground states end up being extremely close on Election Day. These close results, in turn, generate post-election doubt, controversy, litigation, and unrest over real or imagined irregularities.

In contrast, the winner’s average margin of victory in the national popular vote in these six elections was 4,668,496 — more than 16 times larger than 287,969. The danger posed by these post-election controversies in extremely close states is heightened because the country is currently in an era of consecutive non-landslide presidential elections.

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The League of Women Voters recognized this in 1970 when it first supported the direct election of the president and has reaffirmed this several times. In 2008 the League first supported the National Popular Vote as an interim measure until the Electoral College can be replaced via Constitutional Amendment. The League recognizes that replacing the Electoral College will take a lengthy effort; women had to fight 100 years for the 19th amendment to win the right to vote. Just last year the League elevated the Direct Election of the President including the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact as one of the major areas of focus for Making Democracy Work.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution gives states exclusive control over awarding their electoral votes. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have joined the National Popular Vote interstate compact. The interstate compact (nationalpopularvote.com) will go into effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes — that is, enough to elect a president (270 of 538).

At that time, every voter in the country will acquire a direct vote for a group of at least 270 presidential electors supporting their choice for President. All of this group of presidential electors will be supporters of the candidate who received the most popular votes in all 50 states and D.C., thus guaranteeing that candidate enough votes in the Electoral College to become president. This would mean every person’s vote would be equal throughout the U.S. and would ensure every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.

To date 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined the National Popular Vote interstate compact. In 2007 the N.C. State Senate passed the National Popular Vote bill but no action was taken in the House. This year House Bill 191 has been introduced proposing that North Carolina join the National Popular Vote interstate compact and one of the cosponsors is Rep. Caleb Rudow (District 116). I urge other representatives to cosponsor, senators to introduce a similar bill, and the appropriate committees to move this effort forward.

If you want your vote to count in every presidential election, encourage the General Assembly to pass this legislation. When we vote for every other office, the candidate who gets the most votes wins. It should be the same for president. Remember, "Your Vote is Your Voice."

Suzanne Fisher, Ph.D., is a retired cell biologist and leader of the National Popular Vote Action Team and President of the League of Women Voters Asheville-Buncombe County. 

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Opinion: National popular vote should decide US presidential election