New York Is the Latest State to Reject the Electoral College

But it’ll take a lot more work to abolish the current system altogether.

Former US Vice President Al Gore speaks about climate change during the Fourth Annual Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 11, 2013. 
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
April 17, 2014, 1 a.m.

New York wants a re­count.

On Monday, Gov. An­drew Cuomo signed le­gis­la­tion that adds New York to the roster of states in the Na­tion­al Pop­u­lar Vote com­pact.

The law al­lows New York to award its 29 elect­or­al votes “in any man­ner it deems ap­pro­pri­ate,” un­der Art­icle II of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Cuomo has pledged New York to give those votes to the can­did­ate who wins the na­tion­al pop­u­lar vote. Cur­rently, New York awards its elect­or­al votes to the can­did­ate who wins the state’s pop­u­lar vote.

So far, nine oth­er states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have signed on to the Na­tion­al Pop­u­lar Vote com­pact. Un­for­tu­nately for pop­u­lar vote ad­voc­ates, this sort of le­gis­la­tion does not ac­tu­ally take ef­fect un­til enough states — rep­res­ent­ing a ma­jor­ity of the Elect­or­al Col­lege’s 538 votes — pass sim­il­ar laws. Iron­ic­ally, pop­u­lar-vote ad­voc­ates have to win over the Elect­or­al Col­lege be­fore they can dis­mantle it.

As a re­fresh­er from your high school civics class, here’s how the Elect­or­al Col­lege works: In­stead of tal­ly­ing up every vote dur­ing the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion and de­clar­ing a win­ner that way, the U.S. uses “elect­ors,” or del­eg­ates who vote for the can­did­ate who wins in their state. The num­ber of elect­ors in each state var­ies by the num­ber of con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts each state has. In al­most every state, elect­ors pledge their votes to the can­did­ate who wins their state’s pop­u­lar vote.

Where does this be­come tricky? Pop­u­lar-vote ad­voc­ates say the Elect­or­al Col­lege sys­tem gives dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­flu­ence to small states and swing states over the out­come of an elec­tion, be­cause small states that may only have one rep­res­ent­at­ive in Con­gress still auto­mat­ic­ally get three elect­ors. And even if a can­did­ate wins only 51 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote in a giv­en state, he still rakes in all of that state’s Elect­or­al Col­lege votes.

The dis­tinc­tion between the pop­u­lar vote and the Elect­or­al Col­lege was nev­er more clear than in 2000, when Al Gore won the pop­u­lar vote but still lost the pres­id­ency to George W. Bush. Gore earned 500,000 more votes than Bush, yet Bush was awar­ded 271 elect­or­al votes to Gore’s 266.

“With the pas­sage of this le­gis­la­tion, New York is tak­ing a bold step to fun­da­ment­ally in­crease the strength and fair­ness of our na­tion’s pres­id­en­tial elec­tions,” Cuomo said in a press re­lease. “By align­ing the Elect­or­al Col­lege with the voice of the na­tion’s voters, we are en­sur­ing the equal­ity of votes and en­cour­aging can­did­ates to ap­peal to voters in all states, in­stead of dis­pro­por­tion­ately fo­cus­ing on early con­tests and swing states.”

Oth­er big-hit­ting states that have signed on to the com­pact in­clude Cali­for­nia, Illinois, New Jer­sey, Wash­ing­ton, and Mas­sachu­setts. With 165 elect­or­al votes, the Na­tion­al Pop­u­lar Vote cam­paign is a little more than halfway to its goal. But it’ll still need 105 more votes be­fore it can de­clare vic­tory.

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