Skip Navigation
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.