A show of hands, a secret ballot and electronic polls are all direct ways to determine an outcome of a vote. However, the process of voting for the President of the United States is more complicated, relying on the Electoral College. The League of Women Voters of the United States opposes this process and is contemplating an alternative way of representing the opinion of the country.
Earlier this week, the Chautauqua County LWVUS held a meeting at the Brick Room in Fredonia to discuss the National Popular Vote (NPV) Compact, which would provide a way for citizens of the United States to choose the president by popular vote without amending the Constitution. The LWVUS is a nonpartisan organization that has worked since 1920 to improve government systems through education and advocacy. The meeting that was held was restricted to members only in order to discuss the NPV Compact and the positive and negative attributes of it. Marcia Merrins, who is on the board of directors of the LWVUS and is currently co-president of the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters, ran the meeting.
"At a convention last May, the delegates decided that the National League should do a study about whether or not they should join a compact among them for direct election of the president by national popular vote. In order for us to take a position on that as an organization our members all across the country, from Hawaii to Florida, have to study the issue," Merrins said. "The way they do that is they put a committee together and that committee comes up with documents in support of that concept and in opposition to that concept and then local leagues study that material, as we did and then answer the series of questions that are developed by that committee at the national level."
The NPV Compact would result in the state electors voting for the candidate who received the most votes throughout the country. After the popular vote from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were added together, the state elections officials from each participating state would give their vote to the candidate who received the most popular votes nationwide. This alternative voting process would only take place if states collectively having 270 electoral votes, which would be a majority, participated. As of now four states have passed legislation to partake in the NPV Compact.
The discussion the Chautauqua County LWVUS took part in was part of a chapter-wide study to determine whether the organization would move forward in trying to implement this process. A multiple-choice questionnaire was given to each member in order to establish the consensus of the group. Although there was in-depth discussion and varying concerns and opinions, the Chautauqua County chapter ultimately decided on the statements that best reflect their feelings regarding the NPV Compact.
They believe that the compact would be an acceptable way to change the process for electing both the President and Vice President. Although there are concerns regarding the use of the compact method, including Constitutional power, fairness and mechanical issues, the League still supports the NPV Compact as a way of achieving the goal of abolishing the Electoral College. They also decided that although there is the possibility that the NPV Compact will require Congressional consent, it is not enough of a concern to abandon the plan.
However, they did decide that because of the element of uncertainty in the plan, if enforced it is probable that the courts would become involved with the presidential election in a way that would invoke concern. Since it is possible that not all states would voluntarily take part in the NPV Compact, the LWVUS decided that the compact would be more important than having a uniform system of voting because it would be successful in removing the Electoral College. Furthermore, it was decided that it is more important to achieve a national popular election of the President than it is to remove the Electoral College.
Members also agreed that the implementation of the compact would be difficult because of the need for congressional contemplation and because so many states would have to become involved. Lastly, they believe that a constitutional amendment for direct popular election and the abolition of the Electoral College will persistently have trouble being passed.
Overall, the consensus of the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters was that they are in favor of forming a national compact among states. Merrin has her own reasons for being in favor of the change.
"I am always disgruntled when I find there was a candidate in the United States that most of the people voted for and because of the Electoral College was not elected. I think there was a time a few years ago when I was just abashed at that. I think that the League has always been against the Electoral College. I feel that when people take the time to cast a vote and the majority of them select a candidate and that candidate is not elected, it makes people feel that their vote doesn't matter and I think that is not a good position for anybody to be in who lives in this kind of democracy."
The process of which the NPV Compact would be carried out will be determined by the outcome of the NPV Compact study. If the LWVUS agrees that as an organization they should move forward in implementing the compact then a specific plan, including lobbying state legislatures to join the compact, will be created. If the opposite is discovered the organization will continue to support the abolition of the Electoral College but will cease action toward the NPV Compact.
"If the majority of leagues through out the country, and there are about 850 local leagues like this one, have the same result as we do and it's a clear consensus, which is about 2/3, then we will take that position in support of the compact among states and advocate for it," Merrins said.
There are a lot of supporting and discouraging arguments regarding the NPV Compact, all of which are available at lwv.org. The LWVUS encourages the public to research the issue and make an educated decision. The next Chautauqua County League of Women Voters meeting will be held April 21 and more information about the Western New York chapters can be found at lwvny.org.