Thank you, New Jersey!

New Jersey has become the second state to pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, following Maryland. (Yay, New Jersey! In an odd coincidence, I heard this news while in a hotel room in New Jersey. I will give the state a big kiss when I head out tomorrow.)

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is not a highway maintenance agreement. It’s a plan —  a workable, entirely constitutional plan — to replace the electoral college system with a true popular vote. In a nutshell: each state in the compact agrees to give all of its electoral votes to the national popular vote winner (regardless of the winner in that state), and the compact only goes into effect after enough states have signed it to decide elections (that is, the members must control at least 270 votes in the electoral college).

Now we’re one state (more importantly, 15 electoral votes) closer to real democracy in the US. Thank you, Governor Corzine. In California, the state legislature passed the compact only to have it vetoed by the incomprehensible Governor Schwarzenegger, who said “I cannot support … giving all our electoral votes to the candidate that a majority of Californians did not support.” Okay, so you’d prefer to give the presidency to a candidate that a plurality of the country did not support, Arnold? (I think he meant “plurality” not “majority”, but English is not his native language so we’ll give him a break on that one.)

I’ll balance this out with a complaint about New Jersey: they have the funny you-can’t-pump-your-own-gas law (seen that in Oregon too, but nowhere else). All gas stations here in NJ are “full service”, meaning that an attendant has to come pump for you. But, just like pumps everywhere in the United States, the gas pumps in New Jersey have stickers saying “Do Not Leave Pump Unattended While Pumping Gas”. In practice, though, that’s exactly what happens: the lone attendant dashes around from pump to pump, running credit cards, making change for customers, asking people what kind of gas they want, all while leaving unattended the pumps he’s already started. So as far as I can tell, the full-service-only law actually results in reduced safety at gas stations, or else those stickers are pointless.

But the gas thing is a minor quibble compared with passing the NPV Interstate Compact. Who’s next? It’s pending the governor’s signature in Illinois…


  1. First of all: w00t!

    Secondly… what an original complaint about New Jersey. Despite having only been to NJ once in my life, whenever it’s mentioned I can barely stop myself from mentioning hypodermic needles and/or hairspray. I admire you.

    Side note: one of my captchas is Trenton. Is that random and coincidental or are these captchas targeted?

  2. Wow. That’s a total coincidence. Like that one time when I surfing Wikipedia and hit the “random article” button, and got taken to this article. The English Wikipedia has over a million articles, and I’ve clicked that button nowhere near a million times :-).

  3. The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President arises from the winner-take-all rule (currently used by 48 of 50 states) under which all of a state?s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state. If the partisan divide in a state is not initially closer than about 46%-54%, no amount of campaigning during a brief presidential campaign is realistically going to reverse the outcome in the state. As a result, presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the concerns in voters of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided ?battleground? states. As a result, 88% of the money and visits (and attention) is focused on just 9 states. Fully 99% of the money goes to just 16 states. More than two-thirds of the country is left out.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes?that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill is enacted in a group of states possessing 270 or more electoral votes, all of the electoral votes from those states would be awarded, as a bloc, to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has 366 legislative sponsors in 47 states. It has been signed into law in Maryland. Since its introduction in February 2006, the bill has passed by 12 legislative houses (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, and California).


  4. I get concerned about unintended consequences when I hear people talking about the wonders of the national popular vote:

    There’s no national standard for who gets to vote. Some allow felons to vote; others don’t. The minimum voting age has to be at least 18, but can be lower. I don’t see anything in the US Constitution saying that states can’t allow non-citizens to vote, but I may be missing it. Currently, the amount of power a state has is based on its census population rather than its number of voters, meaning states don’t have an incentive to up their number of voters. Maybe changing that would be a good thing, as a state could increase its power by becoming more inclusive, but it’s worth thinking about a situation where a state increases its power significantly by, say, giving the vote to five year olds, and what the consequences for the rest of the country would be.

    The electoral college system also limits the amount of damage corrupt election officials can do to a presidential election. The mess in Florida in 2000 was only able to happen because Florida had enough electoral votes to break what was essentially a tie. Given a somewhat larger spread in the electoral college spread, no amount of messing with votes in Florida would have been able to affect the national outcome. With a national popular vote, you could have somebody winning by a huge margin, and still any election official anywhere that didn’t like the outcome would be able to certify some large number of extra votes and throw the election to the other side.

    So, it seems like at a minimum, some sort of national standard for who can vote and how elections should be conducted would be needed for this to work.

  5. I agree that these are all problems, but I don’t see how the situation is not improved by having a popular vote; all those problems are still present in the electoral college system (except for the inflationary temptation, but frankly, if states started allowing children to vote, Congress would just pass some federal standards, which is exactly what you advocate).

    Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  6. Joreko, I appreciate the comment, but it’s a bit too automated. You’ve clearly left a boilerplate comment — you didn’t even update your boilerplate to account for the topic of my post, namely, that New Jersey has now passed the law completely.

    Spam in causes I like is still spam :-(.

  7. Steve,

    A simpler way to say what I’m trying to say might be:

    The best route to a uniform nationwide standard would be a situation in which each vote counts equally: national popular vote is the solution to the problems you list, really.

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