National popular vote bill aims to change Electoral College

July 9, 2008

Today the Massachusetts House will vote on House Bill 678, also known as the National Popular Vote Bill. This bill aims to prevent presidential victory by any candidate who loses the national popular vote. In 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election; five times in the nation’s history the winner of the popular vote has relinquished the presidency to the winner of the Electoral College.

The National Popular Vote Bill could change how presidential elections are run

Under the current Electoral College system, each state’s electoral votes go to the candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote in that state. Candidates can expect to win a majority in certain "non-battleground" states, like Massachusetts and Texas. Swing states, or battleground states, like Michigan and Ohio do not always vote blue or red, which means candidates will spend more time and money on them. Candidate attention correlates with voter turn out; more attention usually results in more voters at the polls come election day.

Advocates of the bill argue that the current system prevents voters in certain states from going out to the polls. Furthermore, once a majority is won, surplus votes for the winning candidate become useless. In swing states every vote counts because the margin of victory will be slim. The National Popular Vote bill promotes a system in which all votes are counted equally, but it does not eliminate the Electoral College completely. This is because the system relies on agreement between states.

By passing the National Popular Vote Bill, Massachusetts would agree to an interstate compact - an agreement between states - that the winner of the nation’s popular vote will receive the state’s electoral votes. In order for the agreement to be enacted, a majority of the Electoral College must pass the bill. This means 270 of the 538 electoral votes are necessary. Massachusetts would be the fifth state to pass the bill, joining Maryland, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey, where the bill is already law. Addition of Massachusetts’ electoral votes would fulfill 62 of those needed votes.

Though it is supported by Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore Dimasi, the bill may not be passed before the end of the current legislative session. Bill supporters aim to put the new system in place by the 2012 election.

For more information visit the National Popular Vote website.

*7/10/08 Update: The National Popular Vote bill passed in the State House yesterday with a vote of 116-37. The bill will now move on to the Senate where it is supported by Senate President Therese Murray.