No Second Place Winners, Just Voters and Votes

— by Chet Culver, Former Governor of Iowa

America devotes a lot of time and money to the idea of democracy. We promote it at home, and teach the concept to our schoolchildren. Our military bravely defends it abroad.

In a democracy, whomever gets the most votes wins the election. I was elected Governor of Iowa with the most votes. That’s the way we elect senators. The same is true for dogcatchers. The winner wins in every election in the United States, with one exception: the election of the leader of the free world.

In American history, candidates have won a majority of the Electoral College (and hence the White House) without winning the most popular votes in 4 of the nation’s 56 presidential elections. That’s 1 in 14 times. If car companies had this sort of failure rate, you’d never get behind the wheel.

More after the jump.

2000: Bush 271 – Gore 286
2004: Bush 286 – Kerry 251

But the big picture is worse, thanks to “near miss” elections. Everybody remembers the 2000 election where Al Gore won the popular vote nationally but lost Florida by ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. But we tend to forget the night of the 2004 election, when the presidency came down to Ohio. A shift of 60,000 votes in that state in 2004 would have given the Electoral College majority vote to John Kerry despite President Bush’s nationwide popular vote lead of 3,000,000 votes.

Landslide elections, in which the vote margin is sufficient to render the whole question moot, are increasingly infrequent. The electorate is fragmented and polarized, and close presidential elections are likely to become the norm. That means more second place winners.

This likely explains why more than 70% of voters support a system that guarantees the presidency to the winner of the overall popular vote.

Fortunately, the National Popular Vote Plan just does that.

Under this state-based plan, states will award their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in the entire United States. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to fix our broken system. According to Article II, section 1, states have exclusive control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes.

The plan would do away with the winner-take-all system, currently in use by 48 out of 50 states (Nebraska and Maine being the two exceptions). In addition to causing second-place winners, the system makes some votes hundreds of times more important than others, and causes non-battleground states to be ignored.

The National Popular Vote Bill has been introduced in all 50 state legislatures. (In Pennsylvania, it is Senate Bill 1116 and House Bill 1270.) The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes; that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

Chet Culver was Governor of Iowa (2007-2011) and Secretary of State (1999-2007) He now serves as National Co-Champion for Support Popular Vote.

Agreement Among States to Elect President by National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.

The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbiaand 8 states (VT, MD, WA, IL, NJ, MA, CA, HI) shown in green on the map. They total 132 electoral votes bringing us almost halfway towards the 270 necessary to activate the National Popular Vote.

Eleven more states (shown in purple) have passed NPV bills in at least one chamber of their legislature. For example, recently the Republican-controlled New York Senate passed NPV in a 47-13 vote. Republicans supported the bill 21-11 while Democrats supported it 26-2. Across the country, NPV has been endorsed by 2,124 state legislators.

The shortcomings of the current system stem from the winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state).

The winner-take-all rule has permitted a candidate to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in 4 of our 56 elections – 1 in 14 times. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected Kerry despite Bush’s nationwide lead of 3,000,000.

Another shortcoming of the winner-take-all rule is that presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states — with 98% going to 15 states. This makes two thirds of the states mere spectators. (The maps on the left show a similar situation during the final five weeks of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election. Each purple hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate and each dollar sign represents $1,000,000 spent on TV advertising.)

The winner-take-all rule treats voters supporting the candidate who comes in second place in a particular state as if they supported the candidate that they voted against.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”

The winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was used by only three states in our nation’s first election in 1789. The current method of electing the President was established by state laws, and that these state laws may be changed at any time.

Under the National Popular Vote bill, all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

The bill preserves the Electoral College, while assuring that every vote is equal and that every vote will matter in every state in every presidential election.

The bill has been endorsed by New York Times, Sacramento Bee, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, Common Cause, FairVote, LWVUS, and NAACP.


As seen in this state polls are extremely favorable. Supports ranges from a “low” of 67% in Arizona to a high of 83% in Tennessee. On this map, shades of blue represent the highest support and 50/50 support would be represented in purple.

The movement for the National Popular Vote is bipartisan: The national advisory board includes former Senators Jake Garn (R-UT), Birch Bayh (D-IN), and David Durenberger (R-MN) as well as former congressmen John Anderson (R-IL, I), John Buchanan (R-AL), Tom Campbell (R-CA), and Tom Downey (D-NY). Former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Governors Bob Edgar (R-IL) and Chet Culver (D-IA) are champions.

This Spring, Pennsylvania House Bill 1270 was introduced by Rep. Tom C. Creighton (R-Lancaster County) and Senate Bill 1116 was introduced by Senators Alloway, Argall, Boscola, Erickson, Fontana, Leach, Mensch, Solobay, Vance and Waugh. These bills have not yet be acted upon action by the State Government Committees.

Additional information is available in the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.

Pennsylvania poll results follow the jump.

To support National Popular Vote efforts, donate money, contact your state legislator and get involved.
Pennsylvanians Strongly Support Popular Vote for President

Two out of three Pennsylvanians believe the President should be the candidate who “gets the most votes in all 50 states”, according to a recent poll conducted by noted Political Science Professor Dr. Terry Madonna.

The strong showing came in Madonna’s March Omnibus Poll involving a telephone survey of more than 800 Pennsylvania residents and voters. Among those interviewed, seven in ten agreed “it would be unjust to have a President who did not receive the most popular votes.”

The survey findings were released by the National Popular Vote Project even as state House and Senate sponsors are garnering additional support for enabling legislation on the matter.

Madonna said polling showed bipartisan public support for the project. “A clear majority of Republicans and Democrats favor popular voting in place of the Electoral College’s current method for choosing the President,” Madonna said. “The fundamental reasons the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College system no longer exist, and the voters of Pennsylvania understand that.”

The prime sponsor of the legislation in the House, Republican state Rep. Tom Creighton of Lancaster County, is quick to point out that his legislation (HB 1270) does not seek to supplant the Electoral College, but rather seeks to direct the electors as provided in the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution, Creighton notes, spells out in Article II, Section 1, that only the state legislatures may set rules on electors and that, in fact, the term “Electoral College” does not appear in the Constitution.

“Right now, most states allow electors to abide by a ‘winner take all’ approach which casts all of a state’s electoral college votes for the candidate who wins that state,” no matter if the candidate wins by a single vote or in a landslide. That “winner take all” practice has resulted in four elections where the candidate who received the most popular votes was not seated as President. A half dozen other elections resulted in “near misses.”

Only about one in four persons surveyed believe that electing a President by the national popular vote will favor one party over another. And of those who believe that, there is a clear split over which party would be favored.

Support was strong for the popular vote across the state although the most vigorous support was noted in Northwestern Pennsylvania, where 72% supported the concept. Philadelphia and suburban counties came next with 69% supporting a National Popular Vote. 63% supported the concept in both Southwestern(including Pittsburgh) and Northeastern Pennsylvania. A clear majority (58%) supported the idea in Central Pennsylvania.

The Madonna survey included the questions on the presidential election at the request of the National Popular Vote Project, a non-partisan, non-profit organization promoting the issue nationwide. Interviews were conducted with 807 residents, of whom 659 were registered voters, using a random digit telephone number selection system that allowed for the inclusion of cell phone users, in addition to regular landline respondents. The sample error was plus or minus 3.4%.

Results in the survey were similar to those reported in a 2008 automated survey of more than 1,000 Pennsylvania voters conducted by Public Policy Polling. In that poll about 70% favored the election of the President by the national popular vote.