The Colorado Legislature’s ratification of the National Popular Vote NPV has provoked outrage because it cedes Colorado’s presidential electors to other states.
But that’s not the half of it: it also would import into our country the dysfunctional election systems of Mexico, Nicaragua and other Third World nations.
The NPV suffers from severe constitutional problems. But experience teaches us that you can’t rely on the courts to void unconstitutional measures. So we need to take seriously what the “progressives” are trying to force on us.
First, one should understand that the NPV should be called “National Plurality Vote.” Under its terms, if states with 270 presidential electors ratify, then each subscribing state will yield its electoral votes to whomever wins a national plurality — not necessarily a majority. If Peter Fineagle wins a plurality of only 35%, he becomes president.
In NPV countries, such results are commonplace. A candidate does not need wide national support to contend for the presidency, because he can win with bare plurality in a fractured field. And the NPV assures there is almost always a fractured field.
For example: In three of the last four elections in Honduras, the successful candidate for president won in multiparty elections with 43% of the vote or less. In 2013 in a field of four, the winner received less than 37%. In other words, more than 63% of Hondurans voted against the guy, but he became their president.
In the 2006 Nicaraguan election, a plurality of only 38% elected socialist Daniel Ortega. Once in office, Ortega did what socialist thugs commonly do: suppress opposition. Nicaragua has not had an honest election since. A similar incident occurred in 1970 when the Chilean Congress allowed socialist Salvador Allende to take office although he had won only a 37% plurality. The consequences for Chile were disastrous.
Like the U.S., Mexico is a sprawling, at least nominally federal, republic. Mexico chooses its president by NPV. In three of the last four elections, the victor has won without a majority. In 2006, only 36% elected the president. In 2012, only 38% did. Next to such results, Donald Trump’s 46% —just 2 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton — looks like a landslide.
In Panama, the winner of the last presidential election received only 39%. In the last Venezuelan election before the emergence of strongman Hugo Chavez, the winner garnered less than 31%. In Paraguay’s last four elections, the NPV has awarded the presidency to candidates the majority rejected. In the last Filipino election, 61% voted against Rodrigo Duterte, but got him. In the four previous elections, the winner never obtained more than 42%. In 1992, Fidel Ramos was elected in an 11-candidate field with under 24%!
Many of these elections were tainted by corruption, and the NPV would import that as well. It would encourage state officials to inflate their state’s popular vote totals by any means possible. Moreover, under the NPV, every state election officer would be required to accept certified vote totals from every other state — no matter how corrupt those totals were known to be.
Under it, the rot would soon spread to state elections. Most states have plurality election systems now, but their political parties are held together by the need to compete nationally. Once that need disappears, state elections would become as fractured as national races.
Many Americans are unaware of how our presidential electoral system has protected us from Third World results. To win under our system, a candidate must win a majority in the Electoral College, which is almost impossible to do without winning at least 40% of the popular vote. (The one time it happened, the results provoked civil war.) Moreover, if no candidate receives a majority of electors, the House of Representatives runoff enables leading candidates to form coalitions with majority support.
But the NPV would effectively disable not just the Electoral College, but the congressional runoff as well.
It is true that the system occasionally produces a president who, while enjoying widespread popular support, hasn’t quite won a popular majority. But under the NPV, corrupt Third World-style elections would regularly produce presidents opposed by overwhelming majorities.
It’s often claimed that left-wing “progressives” want to make America look more like Europe. Not true: Europe is moving from socialism and toward free markets. They really want to make us more like the Third World.
Rob Natelson is senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Denver, and author of The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant (3rd ed. 2014).