If the Left can’t abolish the Electoral College, they’ll bypass it. So why are some so-called conservatives along for the ride?
Originally published at the American Conservative (05/22/2023)
If you think leftists aim to cut the Electoral College out of the Constitution, guess again—they plan to simply ignore it. The scheme is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and if enough states join, it will force red states to vote Democrats into the White House every four years—forever.
It works like this: Every state that joins the compact pledges its electoral votes to whichever candidate wins more votes nationwide. When enough states join to reach the critical 270-electoral-vote majority, it spells doomsday for Republicans.
If this scheme had been in place in 2016, Hillary Clinton would’ve won the presidency by garnering 48 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 46 percent. Clinton famously ignored Wisconsin on the campaign trail, visiting just thirty-seven states plus the electorally useless D.C. and Puerto Rico. Trump visited forty-five states. Voters in key states rewarded each their due.
Amazingly, the national popular vote plan would mean future Democrats could visit even fewer states and still win the White House. All they’d have to do is juice the vote in California, Illinois, and New York—no need to visit “flyover country.” Why change your strategy when you can change the rules?
With 195 electoral votes across fifteen states already pledged to the compact, we’re closer to the abyss than you might think. So why are some Republicans backing this national suicide compact?
What’s an Electoral College, Anyway?
It’s no secret that each of the Left’s election “reforms”—voting by mail, ranked-choice voting, and automatic voter registration—is meant to codify permanent Democratic control of Congress and state legislatures. When it comes to the presidency, they’ve put National Popular Vote (NPV) in charge.
The name is misleading. While most presidential election winners have won more votes than the losers (Trump is the fifth and most recent exception), all won the presidency by garnering more electoral votes—not popular votes—than their opponents. Every state has a slate of electors determined by its population: California has fifty-five while Idaho has four. There are a total of 538.
Put simply, when individual voters cast a ballot they’re really voting for one party’s proposed slate of electors versus the other’s. After the November election, the winning party’s electors gather in Washington to vote for their nominee, who is soon sworn into office.
Americans instinctively understand this. You don’t vote on legislation in Congress; you vote for a representative to do so with your interests and well-being in mind. No one is outraged by this—yet NPV would have us believe that the United States has never held a free and democratic election in two and a half centuries.
“Progressives” cast this system as uniquely insidious and undemocratic, a relic of colonial-era “white supremacy” in dire need of an update.
In fact, it was one of the Founders’ most ingenious concoctions for balancing the will of the American people across every state against the threat of voting in tyrants who would enact despotism. The Electoral College is meant to be “undemocratic” because it is republican, relying on representatives voted in by the people instead of direct votes from the people.
Practically all Western countries use a similar system to elect their executives because they usually produce leadership that represents a broad array of interests and geographic areas. The United Kingdom’s prime minister, for instance, is chosen by democratically elected members of parliament, not the voters. Ditto in Japan and Italy. Germany is even less democratic, electing the chancellor in the legislature by directive of the president, himself elected by the legislature, not the people.
Practically no other country uses a national popular vote system. Of the 38 OCED countries—all modern, democratic nations—just three count popular votes to elect their executive: Mexico, South Korea, and the Philippines, each marred by corrupt leaders, often elected by far fewer than 51 percent of voters.
Democracy for Whom?
In contrast, the American system puts far more trust in the will of the people than those in Europe, but not recklessly so.
Imagine casting a ballot for a Republican presidential nominee who wins a majority of votes statewide—only for every last one of its electoral votes to benefit the Democrat, whether or not he ever visited your state. Is that fair or democratic? Would it make you more likely to vote next time around, or less?
That is the NPV plan in action. Nothing could do more damage to Americans’ waning confidence in elections. Yet advocates lie through their teeth that NPV will encourage greater trust and clarity in election outcomes, prevent voter fraud, and promote higher turnout in small states without damaging future Republican presidential chances.
Yet in a scenario where six people run for president, the winner under NPV’s plan wouldn’t need to come close to winning a popular vote majority—only a plurality, perhaps just 25 percent.
The libertarian Cato Institute raises another important objection: In close races, how do we actually know who won the popular vote? Complex elector laws in a single state—Alabama—mean that to this day no one knows whether Richard Nixon or John F. Kennedy won the popular vote in 1960 (the official difference was just 113,000 votes and may have been decided by voter fraud). Under the country’s system of electors, there’s no clear way to determine which candidate actually won the popular vote nationwide.
Permanent Control of Washington
Given the right’s hesitancy, it’s no wonder that NPV has made headway exclusively in solidly blue states: California, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia. The first to join the compact was Maryland in 2007; Colorado, the most recent, joined in 2020. In each state where the legislation passed, Democrats controlled every branch of the state government.
The NPV plan only takes effect when states representing 270 electoral votes agree to the compact. It currently has 195. Winning blue or blue-leaning Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Maine would give NPV another 64 votes—agonizingly close, but not enough.
In Nevada, Senate Democrats began a push to adopt NPV legislation in late April 2023, an update from a similar effort in 2019. Stopping them may hinge on a veto by the state’s Republican governor. Things look grimmer in Michigan, which has a Democratic trifecta. As the Capital Research Center’s Parker Thayer explains, 99 percent of funding for the local NPV campaign originated outside Michigan to pay for an army of lobbyists, consultants, and “conservative” figureheads.
But to clinch victory, NPV advocates must also win over a single large red or red-leaning state: Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, or Georgia.
Each of these states passed or considered NPV legislation at one point or another when the movement was in full swing just a few years ago, but none made it into law. Virginia came closest in 2020, yet even its Democratic trifecta failed to move the bill beyond the state house.
Fortunately, NPV victories in these states today look implausible. Georgia has a Republican trifecta and is the least likely to defect. North Carolina and Arizona have Democratic governors who’d likely sign NPV bills, but their Republican legislatures are not likely to agree to the suicide pact. Virginia’s General Assembly is split, with its senate up for grabs in 2023.
The Plebiscite Option
Before conservatives breathe a sigh of relief, however, consider that NPV advocates have a backdoor in Arizona: the ballot proposition. Activists tried this in 2016 and failed to collect enough signatures to make the 2018 ballot. But signature-gathering is largely a matter of funding.
In Colorado, voters approved an NPV proposition (Prop. 113) after leftists poured close to $5.5 million into the “yes” campaign in 2020. Three-hundred-thirty thousand dollars of that came from two nonprofits run by Arabella Advisors’ multi-billion-dollar “dark money” network, the most powerful liberal lobbying force in the country. Another $75,000 came from Stephen Silberstein, an NPV board member (and key donor) and California mega-donor. Silberstein is part of the Democracy Alliance, the left’s top strategy group for coordinating its donors’ political spending. He was also a major donor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
NPV funding has also come from the Tides Foundation and the philanthropy of Jonathan Soros, George’s son. Among NPV’s largest donors is its co-founder, John Koza, who has pumped $14 million into the group by 2014, and planned to donate an additional $2 million annually. Koza, a Democratic donor, says that President George W. Bush’s “unfair” election inspired him to found NPV.
No wonder national popular vote legislation is supported by activist groups such as the Movement Advancement Project, which includes membership in NPV’s compact part of its “democracy” ranking for states. The far-left agitation group People for the American Way (PFAW), most infamous for “borking” judge Robert Bork in the 1980s, also demands states join the NPV compact to ensure “racial equity.” So do the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Blueprint NC, the lead group in turning North Carolina blue.
Common Cause, one of the left’s top election litigation groups, boasts in its IRS disclosure that it was “instrumental in helping pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in Colorado, New Mexico, Delaware, and Oregon.” The same organization pushed automatic and same-day voter registration, early voting, forced donor disclosure, and “independent” redistricting commissions in other states.
Snakes in the Grass
NPV prefers a more conservative face when wooing Republican states to join its compact: Saul Anuzis, the group’s top lobbyist and spokesman and one of the left’s favorite guns-for-hire.
Anuzis is head of the center-right 60 Plus Association and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. He ran for RNC chairman in 2011 and lost to Reince Priebus, in part because of his support for gutting the Electoral College. Anuzis resurfaced as an adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and later as a delegate representing Michigan in that year’s Republican Convention, where he voted to nominate Cruz despite Trump winning the state’s primary.
In 2011, he circulated a pro-NPV letter on fake RNC letterhead after Priebus denied his request to use the party’s elephant logo. When an Alaska Republican lawmaker confronted him over the move, he offered this rather weaselly defense: “Anyone can get the elephant off the internet.”
It is also possible that Anuzis is profiting off of National Popular Vote through its 501(c)(3) arm, the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections. His salary in 2019 was nearly one-third of the institute’s total revenues that year, while its 2019 IRS disclosures suggest that he collected another $100,000 in fees as part of “Medaglia,” possibly referring to a difficult-to-trace firm in Washington, D.C. (Medaglia & Associates) listed in an older NPV Form 990 filing.
Anuzis’s political consulting firm, Coast to Coast Strategies, has pulled in at least another $330,000 in consulting fees from the institute’s 501(c)(4) sister, National Popular Vote, across three years (2019, 2016, and 2010). Coast to Coast’s other principal is ex-California GOP politician Ray Haynes—who simultaneously works as president of the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections. In 2016, Haynes received personal payments of at least $159,000 from both the institute and NPV for consulting services.
Like Anuzis, NPV likes to use Republican consultants in its target states. Its methods are highly unethical, perhaps even illegal in some cases.
I have reported on NPV’s lavish junkets and resort trips for Republican legislators to destinations like Hawaii, Panama, and Sedona, where the group wines and dines and sells them on the anti-Electoral College plan—all paid for by its 501(c)(3) arm.
Day one is all about golf, spas, and expensive dinners. Day two is old-fashioned wheeling and dealing. The goal is to “aggressively” educate legislators on the chief benefit of joining the NPV compact: securing their reelections.
It’s unclear whether these expenditures violate lobbying disclosure or ethics laws. What is clear is that they worked—to a degree. After one such swanky trip in 2016, Arizona Republicans introduced NPV legislation that almost perfectly matched the text of NPV’s model bill. It passed by forty yeas—twenty Republicans and twenty Democrats—to sixteen nays, and only died when local conservative groups flooded Republican lawmakers with messages urging them to oppose the compact. Nevertheless, voting for it cost a few lawmakers their jobs in the following primary election.
Similar stories unfolded in Oklahoma, Georgia (with then-Rep. Stacey Abrams’s help), and Michigan. In the end, the fate of free and fair elections in America may all come down to a single Republican-run state—and courageous conservatives willing to stand up to the left’s scheme.
Sunset for the Democrats?
There is a silver lining to this story.
As late as 2016, Democratic strategists were confident they could win an Electoral College majority and, chicanery aside, they proved so in the 2020 election. The push for the national popular vote compact, however, betrays the left’s secret belief that Democrats have no future as a national party unless they can bend the rules. What changed?
Since at least 2010, “progressives” have increasingly come to believe that the only way they can win majorities is by expanding the electorate through mass nonprofit voter registration and the adoption of extremist laws to expand ballot harvesting, enact all-mail elections, grant D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood, federalize elections, gerrymander districts, and automatically register everyone with a heartbeat.
We saw the rotten fruit of this project in 2020 and 2022, when Democrats prospered in large part because they were able to identify, register, and turn out new left-leaning voters in key swing states. It’s no coincidence that the U.S. Census Bureau just reported that 2022 saw the highest voter registration rate in two decades.
But the radicalization of the Democratic Party also reveals its desperation. Party strategists don’t believe their policies have much support beyond a narrow demographic band in a shrinking geographic area, which is why they advocate for mass registration rather than winning over independents. For the left, it is easier to register every last low-propensity, gay, non-white college graduate in Atlanta or Phoenix than defend their party’s ideas in public debate—and they’re running out of them.
We may be witnessing the world’s oldest political party withering into the world’s most lavishly funded Marxist book club. All that conservatives must do to protect the Electoral College is hold the line—and show National Popular Vote the door.