People's choice award

Bruce Wallin, associate professor of political science, discusses the National Popular Vote bill. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill

August 5, 2010

There is momentum behind a National Popular Vote bill that would ensure the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes. The National Popular Vote would count citizens’ individual votes in presidential elections, fundamentally altering the Electoral College system that enabled George W. Bush to win the election in 2000, despite his losing the popular vote. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the bill this week, committing the state’s Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. Bruce Wallin, associate professor of political science, discusses the issue and how it might affect the Bay State.

What does the bill signed by the governor mean for Massachusetts?

It means that Massachusetts officials have come to the conclusion that the country should never elect a president who didn't receive the most popular votes nationwide, which can happen under the current Electoral College system, where a candidate receives all of the Electoral votes for a state (12 for Massachusetts) whether he or she wins 51 percent of the vote, or 90 percent It would have no actual effect on Massachusetts. Candidates would still campaign here as they always have.

Massachusetts is the sixth state to adopt the legislation — Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington have already enacted the laws. What is driving this movement, and will other states follow suit?

The fact that Al Gore won more popular votes nationwide than George W. Bush in 2000, but still lost the election because Bush won the Electoral College. I think other states will follow suit — but likely not enough that would make a difference. The legislation will not go into effect unless the states that pass it together hold a majority of the Electoral College votes.

Which do you think is the better system of voting?

Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The Electoral College allows each state to have some importance, and thus force candidates to campaign in many of them that they otherwise would not. But a candidate can — and it has occurred on three occasions — win under this system without receiving the majority of the popular votes. The public would see a direct popular election as more legitimate, more democratic, reflecting the will of the majority or plurality.

Would a national popular vote change how presidential candidates campaign?

Yes. Campaigns would focus on areas with large populations and ignore those in smaller states.

The campaigns would become even more media driven. That said, I think that overall, voters would probably not notice much of a difference; just more political advertising and more appearances by candidates in areas of the nation with the largest populations.

For more information, please contact Samantha Fodrowski at 617-373-5427 or at s.fodrowski@neu.edu.

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