By Karen Shanton
In early 2013, legislative proposals to allocate presidential electoral votes by congressional district have drawn a lot of press. But another type of electoral vote change, the National Popular Vote (NPV) Compact, got more attention—and traction—in state legislatures in the last several years.
When a state joins the NPV Compact, it pledges to award all of its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide, regardless of who wins the popular vote in the state. NPV differs from the other proposals for changing electoral vote allocation in a couple of important ways:
It's not a change states make unilaterally. If Oklahoma or Washington approves the district system proposal it has pending, the change will go into effect—no matter what other states decide to do with their votes. NPV legislation, on the other hand, is only activated once states with a majority of electoral votes join the compact. Currently, states with electoral votes totaling 132 have signed on; another 138 electoral votes are required for the compact to take effect.
It functionally sidesteps the Electoral College. Strictly speaking, NPV is a way of allocating electoral votes. Unlike other electoral vote allocation proposals, however, it effectively bypasses the Electoral College. Rather than allocating votes solely on the basis of votes in-state, it awards them to the national vote winner.
NPV's trajectory has also been different. Interest in the NPV Compact exploded just as enthusiasm for other electoral vote allocation proposals started to wane. Though introduction rates for both NPV and non-NPV bills have dropped since 2007-2008, NPV continues to be introduced at a significantly higher rate than other proposals.
It has also been entertained by more states—NPV legislation has been introduced in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia), compared to 35 states for other electoral vote allocation proposals—and met with more success. Eight states and DC have signed on to NPV. Post-2000, none have approved any of the other proposals.
Over the years, partisan support for the NPV Compact has changed. Initially, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to be lead sponsors of NPV bills; about seven times as many states saw Democrat- as GOP-led legislation in 2006-2008. However, last session saw a jump in GOP backing. More than a third of the states that considered NPV in 2011-2012 saw bills with Republican primary sponsors. (All nine of the successful NPV efforts were passed by Democrat-controlled legislatures.)
Other types of proposals (e.g. proposals to allocate electors by congressional district), by contrast, have seen a decline in bipartisan backing. Historically, these proposals have tended to have a mix of Democratic and Republican sponsors; the partisan split in most biennia has hovered around 50-50. That changed this year. So far in 2013, non-NPV proposals have only been introduced by Republicans.
For more on NPV, see NCSL's National Popular Vote page.