Bill to give away Md. electoral votes is a bad idea

Maryland was the first state to enact the National Popular Vote compact. The compact has been enacted into law by 11 states and the District of Columbia possessing a total of 172 electoral votes — just 98 short of the number needed to take effect. The Colorado legislature just passed the compact and sent it to Governor Jared Polis, who has said he would sign it.

The National Popular Vote compact would:

  • Guarantee 270 electoral votes (and hence the presidency) to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC;
  • Make every vote for president equal throughout the United States; and
  • Compel presidential candidates to campaign in all 50 states and D.C. — instead of soliciting votes in a dozen or so closely divided battleground states representing only 30 percent of the nation’s population.

A recently introduced bill in the Maryland Senate (S.B. 582) would not accomplish any of these three goals. Instead, S.B. 582 would allow another state with 10 electoral votes (say Wisconsin) to join Maryland (which has 10 electoral votes), so that 20 electoral votes could be awarded to the nationwide winner in November 2020.

One shortcoming of S.B. 582 is that 20 electoral votes would not even come close to accomplishing the goal of guaranteeing the presidency to the national popular vote winner. Mr. Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was 74 electoral votes, and the average was 146 over the last eight elections.

Another shortcoming of S.B. 582 is that it will not incentivize presidential candidates to campaign beyond the dozen or so closely divided battleground states. The reason is that continuing to campaign only in the battleground states would give candidates a bite at two apples. Every incremental vote in a battleground state would count toward both winning the battleground state’s electoral votes and toward winning S.B. 582’s 20 electoral votes. In contrast, campaigning among the 215 million people (65 percent of the nation’s population) in the 39 states that are routinely ignored would give a candidate a bite of only one apple: namely S.B. 582’s 20 electoral votes.

Thus, S.B. 582 would increase the already excessive importance of the existing battleground states because voters in those states would retain 100 percent control over their own state’s electoral votes, while acquiring partial control over S.B. 582’s 20 electoral votes. S.B. 582’s giveaway would be a one-way street, because Maryland voters would not acquire any compensating influence over the electoral votes of any other state.

In contrast, the National Popular Vote compact is not a giveaway because a Maryland voter would acquire direct influence over the electoral votes of states possessing a bloc of at least 270 electoral votes (enough to elect a president).

A two-state scheme involving 20 electoral votes cannot possibly remake our nation’s current system of electing the president.

Moreover, Electoral College reform should not favor one political party over another. This bill could unintentionally favor President Donald Trump’s reelection and substantially disadvantage the 2020 Democratic nominee.

Wisconsin has voted Democratic by modest margins in six of the last seven presidential elections, and the Democratic nominee will expect to win this usually Democratic state in order to win in 2020. Maryland has voted heavily Democratic in all of these elections. If Mr. Trump wins the nationwide vote and loses Wisconsin and Maryland, S.B. 582 would give Mr. Trump 20 extra electoral votes as protection against losing the Electoral College. However, S.B. 582 would not give the Democratic nominee equal protection. If the Democrat wins Wisconsin, the nationwide vote, and Maryland, he or she would get zero extra votes worth of protection against losing the Electoral College while winning the nationwide popular vote (because he or she was going to win solidly Democratic Maryland anyway, and was probably going to win usually Democratic Wisconsin).

Another problem is that S.B. 582 glaringly omits the obvious requirement that any state interested in achieving a national popular vote for president and wanting to join with Maryland should simultaneously pass (or have previously passed) the National Popular Vote compact.

The National Popular Vote compact will make every vote equal, compel candidates to campaign nationwide, and guarantee the presidency to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states and D.C. Senate Bill 582 does not deliver any of these three benefits.

John R. Koza (john@johnkoza.com) is chair of National Popular Vote and lead author of the book “Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.”

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