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Expert Brief

So Goes the Nation

The Constitution, the compact, and what the American West can tell us about how we’ll choose the president in 2020 and beyond.

Published: April 7, 2020


The Electoral College has resulted in the loser of the national popular vote winning the presidency five times in our history, including twice in the past two decades. Over the course of more than two centuries, it has become one of the two most popular subjects for constitutional amendment proposals. But because of the difficulty involved in amending the U.S. Constitution, many of those opposed to the way we choose the President have become resigned to the status quo. However, others have been persuaded to pursue reform without resorting to the amendment process set forth in Article V. Specifically, reformers have rallied around the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a plan that seeks to elect the presidential candidate receiving the most votes nationwide by leveraging states’ power over the Electoral College. This Piece describes the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVC) movement, particularly in light of recent political victories in the western states that have brought success within advocates’ reach. It then puts the campaign in a historical context, comparing it to an earlier effort to secure democracy reform, also popularized in the American West: the direct election of U.S. senators.

This Piece then discusses three potential challenges facing the NPVC: two recent decisions issued by courts in western states, which may impact the operation of the Electoral College; a mounting political campaign to have one western state withdraw its support for the plan; and an attack from conservative legal commentators arguing that the plan is unconstitutional. This Piece concludes with a brief note of cautious optimism for advocates of the plan, namely that they can prevail if they build on the campaign’s present momentum while heeding the aforementioned obstacles, which I believe to be surmountable.