The Electoral College is a widely misunderstood and confusing institution for Americans. The big message is clear though: a candidate needs 270 electoral votes to become the President of the United States. New Hampshire possesses four of these electoral votes. While a small number, these four votes are essential for anyone seeking the presidency. But who casts these votes?
In New Hampshire specifically, electors — those who cast the electoral vote — are nominated by state party conventions. The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the New Hampshire Republican Party have each elected their own slate of four electors in May already.
Come election day, voters are not technically voting for a presidential candidate, but rather the electors, either the Democratic Party’s electors, or the GOP’s electors. These electors will go to the Executive Council chamber in the New Hampshire State House in December to cast their vote for the President of the United States.
The idea of the electoral college is that we trust the electors chosen to vote for whoever won the popular vote in New Hampshire, no matter their political beliefs.
“The idea is that you pick a party loyalist, somebody who has done a lot of work for the party, held office, and they won’t give you any unpleasant surprises,” said Christopher Galdieri, Associate Professor of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.
That is exactly what both major parties do every four years. The most notable example this year is the New Hampshire GOP’s slate of electors, which includes former Trump senior campaign advisor, Corey Lewandowsky.
Unpleasant surprises like Galdieri mentioned can still occur, including in New Hampshire. These unpleasant surprises are called “faithless electors.” New Hampshire has only had one faithless elector ever and that was in 1820. William Plumer was the only dissenting electoral vote against incumbent President James Monroe. Former Professor of History at Indiana University, Lynn W. Turner, documents legend that quotes Plumer saying himself that he “did not want Washington to ever be robbed of the glory of being the only President who had ever received the unanimous vote of the electors.”
The majority of states — 33, plus Washington D.C. — have laws barring faithless electors. Some of these laws do not have any punishment for faithless electors, but others do, ranging from fines of $1,000 to invalidation of a faithless vote. The Supreme Court has upheld these laws.
New Hampshire does not have any laws barring faithless electors — making the state a target for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).
What is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact?
The NPVIC was developed by National Popular Vote Inc., a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to promote and enact the NPVIC. National Popular Vote Inc. authored the NPVIC, and has introduced it in all state legislatures.
The NPVIC is an agreement that state legislatures sign on, pledging to award their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote — regardless of whoever wins that state’s popular vote.
The NPVIC has so far been enacted by 15 states and the District of Columbia, after going through their respective legislatures.
Once enough states sign on to combine their 270 electoral votes pledged to the NPVIC, the electoral college is virtually eliminated.
“There would still be electors and an electoral college, but the electors from those states in the NPV compact would vote for whoever wins the national popular vote, rather than the popular vote winner in their state.” said Galdieri.
Currently the NPVIC has a combined electoral vote count of 196, rendering it moot for this election.
The Compact made its way into the NH state legislature last year, but Governor Sununu was swift to voice his opposition.
When the New Hampshire House Election Law Committee unanimously voted to not recommend the NPVIC, Sununu tweeted about the NPVIC, saying “That type of politically driven sentiment would only serve to destroy the voice of New Hampshire voters in the election of our national leaders.”
This is a bipartisan referendum against @SenatorShaheen and @SenatorHassan’s call to abolish the Electoral College. That type of politically driven sentiment would only serve to destroy the voice of New Hampshire voters in the election of our national leaders. https://t.co/wC21bz1sdD
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) October 31, 2019
As governor, Sununu holds the power to veto the NPVIC should it ever make its way through the state-legislature and to his desk.
The idea of a national popular vote is appealing to Democrats, after a defeat to Trump, who won the presidency thanks to the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote. Pew Research Center conducted a poll in March 2020, evaluating support for replacing the electoral college with a national popular vote.
Overall, 58% of Americans believe the presidency should go to the candidate who wins the popular vote, the poll found, but there were sharp partisan divides. The poll revealed that 81% of Democrats or those that lean Democrat support replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote. Only 32% of Republicans or those that lean Republican support the same idea.
States that tend to be more overrepresented in the Electoral College are also Republican-leaning.
“Because those states are so reliably Republican, Republicans are hesitant to say ‘Let’s give up some of our advantage in the electoral college’” said Galdieri.
Galdieri says if the 2016 election was reversed, where Clinton won the election with the Electoral College but not the popular vote, Democrats would quickly change their tune. “I think an awful lot of Democratic state-legislatures would think ‘it might be pay-back time’ . . . the Compact requires a lot of good will.”
New Hampshire is a crucial state for the NPVIC, but does not look to be pledging to the Compact anytime soon, leaving it at a standstill for now.