The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has actively lobbied against state plans to implement a national popular vote for president, urging state legislators to preserve the Electoral College -- which GOP legislators are now trying to rig to ensure the the next president is a Republican. In late 2011, ALEC officially changed its policy on the Electoral College to implicitly support allocating electoral votes by congressional district.
ALEC Recently Shifted Policy on Electoral College
In December 2011, ALEC reconfirmed its support for the Electoral College, but with one tweak -- official ALEC policy no longer supports allocating electoral votes based on the winner of a state's popular vote for president.
Republican leaders, including Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, have been criticized for recent proposals to allocate electoral votes according to the victor in each Congressional district, rather than according to the winner-take-all system. This change would significantly benefit the GOP's presidential chances, in part because Republicans were able to re-draw Congressional districts to favor their party after the 2010 elections.
In Virginia, where the Republican-led legislature has taken the first step toward reallocating the state's electoral votes, Mitt Romney would have garnered nine of Virginia's electoral votes in 2012, and Obama would have won four -- despite Obama beating Romney by 150,000 votes and four percentage points in the state as a whole.
The proposals come on the heels of a 2011-2012 legislative term where Republicans proposed bills to twist the democratic system for partisan gain through restrictive voter ID and registration requirements, many of which can be traced back to ALEC "model" bills.
ALEC Has Pushed Back on National Popular Vote
Even without the proposed rigging by GOP leaders, the Electoral College is an imperfect system. The winner of the national popular vote can still lose the presidential election, which has occurred four times in American history (three times over a century ago, and most recently in 2000 after the Supreme Court intervened to put George W. Bush in the White House). Under the Electoral College, presidential campaigns focus their energies on a handful of swing states and largely ignore the rest of the country, particularly those states where a majority consistently supports one party. Votes for president don't really count from Republicans in blue states like California and Democrats in red states like Texas.
The GOP's recently-proposed changes to the Electoral College make a bad system worse, further limiting the number of voters who actually matter in presidential elections. But a bipartisan movement has been underway in recent years to replace the Electoral College's indirect election of the president with a system where the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states wins the presidency.
The bipartisan organization National Popular Vote (NPV) has been promoting an interstate compact where states agree to award their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote, rather than according to votes within the state. Choosing the president by way of the Electoral College is part of the U.S. Constitution, but Article II leaves it up to state legislatures to decide how to allocate electors. Such an agreement between states would help create a more level playing field, particularly when compared to the Republican effort to split Electoral College votes in blue states but continue the "winner-take-all" method in red states.
"Our goal is to make sure every voter in every state matters equally," says Pat Rosenstiel, a Senior Consultant to NPV. Rosenstiel, who is a Republican, says that "four out of five voters are on the sidelines" under the current system, where presidential elections are decided by just a few swing states like Ohio or Florida.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed national popular vote compact legislation into law. A national popular vote would take effect if the legislation is enacted by enough states to constitute a majority of electors (270 out of the country's 538 electoral votes), and these nine enactments count for 132 electoral votes, bringing NPV nearly halfway to its goal of 270.
ALEC has pushed back hard against this effort. The group has adopted model resolutions in opposition to the national popular vote and in favor of the Electoral College, has repeatedly rejected appeals from NPV to support its legislation, and has actively lobbied legislators in opposition to the national popular vote interstate compact.
ALEC Lobbied Legislators to Defeat NPV
In 2007, Maryland was the first state in the country to adopt national popular vote legislation. That year, ALEC adopted its "Resolution in Opposition to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact" and its"Resolution in Support of the Electoral College."
"[T]he State of [insert state] shall defeat any legislation that creates a multi-state compact for the purpose of dismantling its current Electoral College system," the latter ALEC document provides.
NPV paid thousands of dollars to join ALEC in 2008 and encourage ALEC legislators to drop their opposition to national popular vote legislation. The group was represented at ALEC meetings by former California Sen. Ray Haynes, a Republican who was the ALEC National Chairman in 2000, as well as other representatives. But according to minutes from ALEC meetings, NPV has been repeatedly rebuffed in their efforts.
Despite ALEC's opposition, national popular vote legislation has nonetheless advanced in the states with bipartisan support. In 2008, New Jersey, Illinois, and Hawaii enacted legislation, followed by Washington in 2009 and both Massachussetts and Washington, D.C., in 2010. Legislation was enacted in California and Vermont in 2011 and proposed in multiple states that year.
ALEC spent considerable energy lobbying legislators in opposition to these bills.
"Under the National Popular Vote system, a candidate could emerge victorious from a multi-party race for president, having won only a majority of votes in one region of the country," reads an 'issue alert' sent by ALEC to legislators in Louisiana when it was considering NPV legislation. "This interstate compact is an end-run around the Constitution ... Louisiana should stick with its current system and reject the interstate compact."
ALEC has consistently told the IRS that it does "zero" lobbying but these "issue alerts" tell another story. These and other "issue alerts" provided support for an IRS complaint filed by Common Cause alleging ALEC actively lobbies and has misled in its IRS filings.
ALEC Change to Resolution Opened Door for Electoral Rigging
In December 2011, at the final meeting of the "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" (before it was allegedly disbanded under public pressure after CMD connected ALEC to "Stand Your Ground" laws and voter ID), NPV representative Ray Haynes proposed an overhaul of the 2007 "Resolution in Support of the Electoral College" to replace the provisions opposing the national popular vote with language supporting it.
The task force's private and public sector members -- which included state legislators and lobbyists for the NRA and other groups -- rejected all of his changes but one. Those ALEC legislators and corporate representatives amended the 2007 "Resolution in Support of the Electoral College" to eliminate this one line:
WHEREAS, the current Electoral College system ensures that (insert state)'s electoral votes are awarded based on how the majority of the State's citizens vote;
This deletion effectively changed ALEC's policy to sanction electoral votes being allocated based on Congressional district, rather than on the winner-take-all basis that has been the practice for decades.
At the time, the issue had already been placed on the political agenda. Legislators in Pennsylvania andWisconsin proposed awarding electoral votes by Congressional district in 2011 (months before the ALEC meeting), but the bills did not pass.
In 2013, ALEC members and their fellow Republicans in those states and others are again taking up proposals to rig the already-broken Electoral College in their favor -- and with the 2012 "Resolution in Support of the Electoral College" amendments, official ALEC policy implicitly supports it.
Republicans are not discussing changes to electoral allocation in solidly red states, but only in states like Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- all states where a majority of residents voted for President Obama, but which are controlled by Republicans at the state level and whose congressional maps were recently gerrymandered to benefit the GOP. RNC Chair Priebus has said explicitly that the plan is only intended for "states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red." If the proposed changes for these four states had been in place during the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would have received 35 electoral votes and Obama just 23, despite Obama winning the popular vote in each state (the proposal in Virginia would allocate all electoral votes according to Congressional district, but in the other states two votes would go to the statewide winner).
Making these changes to how electoral votes are allocated "takes a bad system and makes it worse," says NPV's Rosenstiel. By shifting the fight for electoral votes from just a few swing states to just a few contested districts, "It concentrates power in the hands of even fewer voters, not more."
As for NPV and ALEC, Rosenstiel says, "our membership with ALEC has run its course."