For the last three years, the media have been replete with conservative conspiracy theories, and relish presenting as their guest some of the wackier adherents of these theories. Today, a friend of mine called me to ask about the likelihood of the following set of events taking place, since he has recently heard about it at his place of work.
As I wrote in a recent article here, it is much more difficult for Mitt Romney to win the November election based upon electoral votes than it would be if the election were based upon popular vote. This is because Romney can be expected to get 40% or more of the vote in every state (with the obvious exception of DC) whereas there are a number of states in which Obama will receive much less than that percentage.
We may also recall that the 2000 Presidential election was slightly controversial in its outcome, and the final result was not determined until the Supreme Court decided that Bush had won in Florida, providing him with 271 electoral votes, 2 more than he needed to win the presidency. For some reason, some people were upset about this outcome. For a while, some individuals thought about eliminating the electoral college system, but eventually figured out that this could never be passed as a constitutional Amendment since small states would have no incentive to pass it, as they would lose a disproportionate amount of their power.
Then, some ‘bright’ individuals came up with the idea of something called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The premise behind this is that states agree that whichever candidate wins the national popular vote will get each of the states’ electoral votes that have legislatively agreed to the compact. However, the second part of the legislation is that no state will be bound by it until states that have at least 270 electoral votes have passed it. I know that this is confusing, but we’re not to the conspiracy just yet.
Thus far, the following states with a total of 138 electoral votes have passed the compact. These states are California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington. As well, DC has passed it. What does each of these places have in common? Well, they generally vote Democratic in Presidential elections.
So, we finally get to the conspiracy. It’s complicated, but most conspiracy theories are pretty complex. Electoral votes are officially counted when the new Congress is installed in January, 2013. Pretend that Mitt wins the popular vote but loses based upon electoral votes, a not unlikely proposition. Then, a number of reliably Republican states with at least 132 electoral votes call their state legislatures into session, and decide to quickly enact the compact. The ones that had previously passed it would be bound by the law since there would be 270 electoral votes in support. So, Mitt would be chosen by the Electoral College.
This is a great conspiracy theory for a couple of reasons, at least. It plays on the distrust people in the Northeast and the West Coast have for people in the South and Mountain states. Second, a reason Democratic states are likely to have enacted the compact is because, like bad generals, they are fighting the last war. Now, after getting it through a number of states, people are having second thoughts, and are beginning to think that they may be hoisted by their own petard. Good fun for the rest of us.