By Michael Schaus, The Nevada Independent, April 16, 2023
As some random guy on Twitter keeps trying to remind everyone, #WeMatter in Nevada.
If some people have their way with a specific electoral reform, however, that hashtag isn’t going to remain relevant for too much longer.
Nevada lawmakers are once again considering a measure to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) with AJR6 after having already seen a similar measure vetoed by then-Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2019.
Because it’s being proposed as a constitutional amendment this time around, AJR6 would still need to pass through a second legislative session before going to a vote of the people — meaning, even if it won support at every step along the way, the earliest it could be implemented is 2028.
If passed, Nevada would join a growing number of states pledging to give their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote — a pledge that would begin once enough states have signed on to guarantee a 270 electoral vote majority for a winning candidate.
Opponents have long argued that such a plan would render many smaller states — including Nevada — irrelevant in presidential politics, as candidates would focus their campaign efforts in more populous jurisdictions such as Texas, California and Florida.
Supporters, on the other hand, have argued that it would make presidential elections more democratic, ensuring winners have a support from the majority (or at least a plurality) of voters nationwide.
Testifying in support of NPVIC, Eileen Reavey with National Popular Vote argued the reform would apply “the fundamental American principle of one person, one vote to the one office that represents all of us — the U.S. presidency.”
However, that’s not quite right. In fact, because it preserves the electoral college, it actually disenfranchises voters in the states that sign on to the compact — outsourcing control over their electoral votes to voters throughout the rest of the nation.
Imagine, for example, that Nevada voters soundly rejected a presidential candidate … and yet, that candidate still managed to win the national popular vote by attracting huge voter turnout in far more populous states (states such as California, Texas or Florida). Under the NPVIC, Nevada’s electoral college votes would nonetheless be allocated to that candidate, despite the fact that Nevadans overwhelmingly preferred their opponent.
Such a situation hardly seems democratically representative, given that the state’s 1.8 million active voters would no longer directly control the single thing that actually matters in presidential politics: the state’s six electoral votes.
Maybe, part of the problem is that supporters of the NPVIC reject the basic premise of the electoral college — a system that was specifically designed as an alternative to direct democratic elections in an effort to protect the minority interests of less populous states.
With the electoral college, we don’t actually have a single presidential election. Instead, we have 50 statewide elections. And each one determines a certain number of electoral votes based on the specific state’s number of congressional delegates.
The result from this state-by-state system is that — to the chagrin of some and the cheer of others — smaller, less populous, states such as Nevada matter more than the mere sum of voters in their jurisdiction. And it’s evidenced by just how crucial small swing states like Nevada have been in recent presidential campaigns.
After all, Nevada’s 1.4 million voters who turned out in 2020 — only a small portion of which could be considered true “swing” voters in any given presidential contest — was a drop in the bucket compared to the 158 million total votes cast nationwide. A handful of electoral votes, on the other hand, can mean the difference between victory or defeat — giving swing states significant appeal for campaigns.
Even if one might disagree with the anti-democratic premise of the Electoral College, however, the NPVIC is, itself, a profoundly anti-democratic approach to usurping it.
Other discussed reforms, while imperfect, would at least allow Nevadans to retain control over the destiny of their state’s electoral votes. For example, doing away with the “winner take all” model used in most states would, theoretically, make ideologically diverse states even more important for candidates scrounging for every electoral vote they can find.
And such a model is already used by two states — providing insight to how it would impact presidential politicking. Nebraska and Maine allocate their electoral votes using a “congressional district method” — a process that distributes the states’ electoral votes based on the way each congressional district voted for president. In 2008, this resulted in the dependably red state of Nebraska awarding Democrat Barack Obama an electoral vote. It was the first time a Democrat received an electoral vote from the state since the 1960s. Similarly, in 2016, Donald Trump earned a single electoral vote from the otherwise dependably blue state of Maine.
Such a reform would, of course, come with its own unique risks. Election-reform advocates are largely split on the concept — with groups like Fair Vote warning that it could actually exacerbate some of the current flaws in our electoral politics. However, for all its potential downside, it would at least allow Nevadans to retain direct control of who gets our electoral votes — which is a crucial component of bringing candidates to our state during election years.
The NVPIC, on the other hand, seeks to specifically remove control over the state’s electoral votes from the very people who actually live here. The precious six electoral votes Nevada has to offer wouldn’t be determined by voters in Las Vegas or Reno … they would instead hinge entirely on what the rest of the nation’s more than 200 million registered voters decide on election day.
And if that becomes the case, no one should be surprised when our state’s relatively small batch of undecided swing voters no longer matter in presidential politics.
Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary, having worked as a news director, columnist, political humorist, and most recently as the director of communications for a public policy think tank. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.