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FairVote Executive Director Advocates For Electoral College Reform


The fact that Donald Trump is elected by the Electoral College despite having lost the popular vote has amplified calls for electoral reform, and we're going to hear from a reform advocate now. Rob Richie is the executive director of the nonpartisan group FairVote, and he joins us from New York. Welcome to the program.

ROB RICHIE: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: You support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a proposed reform. Can you describe what that is?

RICHIE: Yes. It's a really intriguing, exciting reform that is grounded in the fact that it's states that really control what happens with the Electoral College. It's not Congress under the Constitution. So using that power, states are entering one by one by passing a law an interstate compact to make an agreement. And the goal is to have the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and D.C. always win the election.

And the mechanism is for all these compacting states that participate in it to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote and to wait until they do it until they control the Electoral College by having a majority. And at that point, all of those states will give all their electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote in every election. And so whoever gets the most votes on election night will win the election.

SIEGEL: And you wouldn't actually need all of the states in the union to participate for that result to take place.

RICHIE: That's right. It's just states representing a majority. Ten states and D.C. have done so, so it has 165 electoral votes in the compact. And we're waiting to get up to 270 before it kicks in.

SIEGEL: Since you are an opponent of the Electoral College obviously, how do you answer the argument that if we relied on the popular vote, presidential campaigns, instead of obsessing over Florida, Ohio and a few battleground states, would obsess over California, New York and a few other major media markets instead?

RICHIE: Well, the way we can know that's not true is that popular vote elections are really not a mystery. We use them for everything else. And if you talk to candidates that win governors races and congressional races where the popular vote determines the outcome, they don't ignore voters. Every votes in play, and if it's close, you're foolish to not aggressively try to get people to participate wherever they are.

SIEGEL: There's an argument in favor of the Electoral College that goes this way. A given state or region might run elections that are corrupt the way old big city political machines famously did or undemocratic the way the Jim Crow South did for many years. But the state-by-state system at least limits the damage that any particular abusive system can do to the boundaries of that state. How do you answer that?

RICHIE: One, it's pretty low-bar. Let's hope that we can run elections that are fair for everything 'cause we care about the results for Senate and House and everything else, too. I think that the current system in fact makes that quite a problem because the result can come down to one or two states. And if you distrust what's happened in one or two states, that really is magnified to affect the whole country.

Popular vote margins tend to be quite big. In fact there's only one that's been less than half a million for more than a hundred years. And so that's a lot of votes to expect to be sort of fraudulently cast. But if it's only 500 or so votes in Florida that decides the election, people might have distrusted the outcome a lot more than what the popular vote margin was.

SIEGEL: Now, you say the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact - to be a plausible system for the next presidential race, I guess you need about 110 more electoral votes.

RICHIE: Yeah - 106 to be precise. You know, it's in play. This election has create a lot of passion, you'll be able to recognize. And I think the underlying problem happens in every election, which is that the candidates spend all their time, all their money, all their attention and polling on just a dozen states and really doing nothing in 38 states. And I think that's the problem that ultimately will be the reason that we go to a popular vote plan.

SIEGEL: Among the states that have approved it, are - and the District of Columbia - are any of them Republican states?

RICHIE: There have been Republican chambers that have passed it. It passed the Arizona House this year. It didn't go all the way, but it did pass the Arizona House. It's passed the Oklahoma Senate a couple years ago. We'll have to see the implications of this election, but we have seen a - kind of a growing cohesion where people of both parties were able to support it. And we'll just have to see what this election has done for that.

SIEGEL: Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote and supporter of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, thanks for talking with us.

RICHIE: Thanks so much, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.