After gaining unified control of state government in 2018, Democrats in Colorado and New Mexico are quickly moving to pass laws that would bring their states' 14 Electoral College votes into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement would have every member state give its electoral votes (EVs) to the national popular vote winner if enough states with a majority of EVs—270 in total—sign up. Once that threshold is reached, all presidential candidates would have to compete to win the national popular vote rather than the Electoral College vote, effectively ending the Electoral College without needing to amend the Constitution.
As shown on the map at the top of this post (see here for a larger version, or see here for a regular state map), we'll explore how Democrats could get enough states to join the compact so that it would take effect for the 2024 presidential election, if all goes according to plan. With Republican legislators voting in lockstep against the proposal, Democrats must rely on states where they have full control of government to join the compact. GOP gerrymandering helped prevent Democrats from taking legislative majorities in a handful of key states last year, and it likewise precludes the compact from reaching a majority in time for 2020.
However, there are already several states where Democrats are in charge that could vote to join the compact right away. That includes:
- Colorado — 9 EVs
- Delaware — 3 EVs
- Maine — 4 EVs
- Nevada — 6 EVs
- New Mexico — 5 EVs
- Oregon — 7 EVs
That’s a total of 34 EVs, so if all these states were to join, the compact would grow from 172 to 206 EVs. The next battle would be in Virginia, which will elect every member of its legislature this November. Democrats need to flip just a single state Senate seat and two state House seats to win unified control of government, meaning they could add Virginia's 13 EVs to the compact to give it 219 EVs. That’s still well shy of the 270 EVs needed, but depending on the results of state-level elections over the next few cycles, 2024 could be within reach.
In 2020, Democrats will have the chance to win power in Minnesota and North Carolina, particularly if courts in the Tar Heel State strike down the GOP's legislative gerrymanders, which appears a strong likelihood. Democrats also have a shot at pulling off upsets and winning majorities in Pennsylvania in 2020, but if not, they would have to wait until after the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census.
Democrats could also flip both chambers in Arizona next year, although they would still have to contend with GOP Gov. Doug Ducey’s veto. However, Ducey faces term limits in 2022, and Democrats could conceivably gain control of government that year. Furthermore, post-2020 redistricting will almost certainly help level the playing field for Democrats in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where GOP gerrymanders are set to be replaced with much fairer maps. If Democrats keep their hold on the governor's office in both states that year, they would gain unified control.
All of the states mentioned above currently have a majority of 291 electoral votes. It’s still a tight path, and reapportionment could yield slightly different math once the final 2020 census numbers are known. However, it’s also possible that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu will either retire or lose re-election in 2020 or 2022 in New Hampshire, which could give Democrats another four EVs.
It’s easy, though, to run through hypotheticals like these; actually crossing the 270-vote threshold will take an intense amount of work. And even if Democrats win all of the necessary elections and their state lawmakers vote to join the compact, it will likely unleash a torrent of intense legal challenges, not to mention towering GOP apoplexy. But if proponents successfully defend against them, the U.S. could finally join nearly every other presidential democracy in the world in directly electing its head of state.
Correction: This post has been corrected to reflect the total number of electoral votes represented by the states cataloged in it.