One of the ideas for election reform that emerged after the 2004 election was the National Popular Vote. The theory is simple, states will enter into gentleman’s agreements with other states and collectively they will commit their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner.
David Sirota recently argued for the NPV. For the record, David is one of my favorite bloggers but I think he is wrong on this issue. The whole logic of NPV is that a somewhat equal number of Democratic and Republic states will sign on. As David himself acknowledges many of these likely Republican candidates are pushing a plan that allocates electoral college votes by congressional district.
What both these plans do is question the logic of electoral college. While there is much to dislike about EC, is there anything worth preserving? Many seem to have forgotten the one thing EC aimed to correct was regional domination in politics. The fear was that a straight NPV would empower a particular region of the country and disenfranchise others. The EC was an attempt to make the national election for president representative of the various regions and the many states.
The biggest problems of EC are shared by NPV. They both are based on plurality rather than majority. By design they greatly limit the participation of multiple political parties. If too many political parties participate, the plurality shrinks and shrinks until the winner has a minority of voters. Think of Clinton in 1996 when he won with only 43% of the popular vote.
I actually think there is a viable compromise between the NPV on the one hand and EC by congressional district on the other. That compromise is STV, or single transferable vote. This works much like IRV, but with the intent of electing multiple people with one vote. In the case of electoral college, STV is simply the tool that allows electoral votes to be allocated by the proportion of the state popular vote.
Lets take a state like Wisconsin. It has ten electoral votes, so roughly speaking a candidate would get an electoral vote for every 10 % of the state popular vote. I go more in depth with how it would actually work in Wisconsin Must Lead. In addition since its a preferential voting system all votes are counted not just those for the top two candidates.