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Ray Haynes: Why Republicans Should Support the Popular Vote

(Image via Maine Public)

“In the battleground states, since 2000, Republicans have won the popular vote four out of six times. In fact, Donald Trump—in 2020—won the battleground states by over 2.1 million votes.”

On January 14th, Merion West’s Henri Mattila was joined by Ray Haynes for a discussion about Mr. Haynes’ advocacy on behalf of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Mr. Haynes has served as a member of both the California State Assembly and the California Senate. Since leaving office in 2007, Mr. Haynes has worked on behalf of a number of political causes in California, along with his work to change how presidential elections are conducted. In his discussion with Mr. Mattila, Mr. Haynes explains why he believes presidential elections should be decided based on who wins the popular vote, as well as how Republicans—contrary to popular belief—may actually benefit electorally from this proposed change.

Today, I am joined by former Republican member of the California Assembly and State Senate—and former American Legislative Exchange Council National Chairman—Ray Haynes, who today is a senior consultant to the National Popular Vote organization. Ray, thanks for joining me today.

You bet, Henri, thank you for inviting me.

So can you start by explaining what the National Popular Vote initiative is?

It is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which the member states agree to award their presidential electors to the person who gets the most votes in all 50 states. So, once enough states (equaling 270 electors) join the compact, those states will—in-block—award their presidential electors to the person gets the most votes in the entire country. And that will mean that whoever gets the most votes will will become President of the United States because 270 electors is what it takes to elect the President of the United States.

Is this going to require a constitutional amendment?

No, Article II Section One of the Constitution says relatively clearly—I won’t even use the word “relatively”—that each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors. And what we are doing as an organization is going to each of the state legislatures and asking them to join the compact, so that once you hit 270 electors, you don’t need to get a constitutional amendment in order to have the popular vote elect the President.

The good news about the compact is it combines the strengths of the electoral college with what most people think ought to happen: the person who gets the most votes wins. So you preserve and protect the Electoral College, in my opinion, under this kind of the complex situation. But you also deliver on the promise that the person who gets the most votes in an election will win. And you also deliver on the promise that every single vote in every single state will be important in every single election.

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How many states have signed the compact so far?

So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined, and they have 196 electoral votes among them. So we’re 74 short of getting the 270, but we’re working on getting the other 74. We’ve also passed in at least one house of the legislature in an additional number of states, equaling 86 electoral college votes. So if we got every single state where at least one house of the legislature has passed it to join, we would be above the 270 [threshold]. In other words, I can see on the horizon where we’re going to get there, and we’re expecting to get there by 2024.

What are some of these states where this has passed at least one house of the state legislature?

Well, for instance, the two states that I recently worked on which passed were Arizona, which has a Republican-controlled legislature [and Oklahoma]. We passed the Arizona House of Representatives by two-thirds vote, [with both] Republicans and Democrats voting in favor of it. We recently passed in Oklahoma, which is also a Republican-controlled legislature. We passed the Oklahoma Senate by a 28-18 vote. We’ve had bipartisan support. Even in New York, when we passed New York, the New York State Senate was controlled by the Republicans. We have passed Republican legislatures, and we have passed Democratic legislatures.

The good news about the Interstate Compact is it has bipartisan support, and it [has] passed the legislatures, for the most part, with bipartisan votes.

On that point about having bipartisan support, the Republican candidate for President has not won the popular vote since 2004. Some speculate that if the country were to move to a popular vote system, Republicans would never win another presidential election. Why would Republicans have any incentive to back this plan?

That is actually an excellent question because everybody for the Republican side looks at the vote as static—that if you change the system, everybody’s going to vote the same way. That’s simply not true. And I can get into the details, but I think most people understand this: There are states where the presidential candidates campaign, and there are states where they don’t because they’re what we call safe states, which are either safely Republican or safely Democrat.

In the battleground states, since 2000, Republicans have won the popular vote four out of six times. In fact, Donald Trump—in 2020—won the battleground states by over 2.1 million votes. If you take all of the votes in the battleground states together and combine them, he won the vote in the battleground states, and he won Florida. This was the first time [a] Republican has won Florida by more than 100,000 votes in 20 years; [President Trump] won by almost 375,000 votes.

The reason I say that is because Republicans have been losing the popular votes where they haven’t been fighting. My theory—and I think it’s supported by the evidence—is that when Republicans fight, they win. So in the battleground states, where Republicans have taken control of the the PR program, [and] not left it to the mainstream media, [they have won]. If you leave it to the mainstream media to define what Republicans think, then people don’t like us because they tend to describe [Republicans] in really mean terms. But when we take control of our own PR, where we run the campaign (and we show the difference between us and the Democrats), we win. Since 2000, the popular vote losses have basically come out of California and New York, where we haven’t even mounted a campaign. And we’re losing those states by five million votes in California and three million votes in New York.

So you’re saying that the one of the main reasons that Republicans have been losing the popular vote is because they don’t bother campaigning in these large, reliably blue states. However, there’s a sizable minority of Republicans whose votes will not get reflected in the total count because the Republican Party doesn’t campaign there; so under the National Popular Vote plan, Republicans would have much more incentive to bring out the vote in those states.

Exactly. And I can tell you [that] in California alone, from my personal experience, that leaves about three million Republican votes on the table, if you will, of people that don’t even show up to vote because they think their vote doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of evidence to support that opinion, because nobody asks them for their vote. So we leave three million votes on the table in California, [and] we leave another two million votes on the table in New York. And if you actually go into safe Republican states, voter turnout is less than in safe Democrat states by like 10%. And [if] you stretch that out across the country, what you start to find is that Republicans’ problems with the popular vote are, quite frankly, caused by their refusal to go out and vote in majority-blue states. That’s for good reason because they’re not going to change the vote; if you don’t get 51% of the vote, you’re not going to get any of the Electoral College votes from those states because of the winner-take-all system. That system is in effect in 48 of the 50 states. So [Republicans] don’t want to waste money; they want to spend it where it counts, which is in the battleground states. But when we do compete, when we fight for the hearts and minds of the American people, nose-to-nose with Democrats, we win. But when we leave people to get their information from their local newscast, they tend either to not vote or [to] vote against us.

What would this mean, then, for states such as, say, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Alaska, which are lower in population and are mostly rural states? What incentive is there for these states to go along with this plan when candidates would be more incentivized to campaign in large population centers?

Well, anybody that thinks that you can win [an] election by just going to large population centers has never run a campaign. That’s [rule] number one that I can tell you from my personal experience; I used to win my elections in the rural areas of my district.

For instance, just one statistic: The 100 largest cities in this country are equal to one-sixth of the population of this country. People have this view that New York and Los Angeles are half of the people in the country. Not so. In fact, New York and Los Angeles together are only about 8% of the total country, and the state of California and the state of New York are still only 12% of the country. That’s it—just 12% of the country. So don’t think that just campaigning in New York and California is going to win an election. But the bottom line is that the rural areas of this country are also one-sixth of the population in the country. And by rural, it’s everything outside of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas. I can get into all the numbers, but, basically, the rural areas are the same size as the biggest cities. They’re each one-sixth. The cities vote 60% Democrat, [and] the rural areas vote 60% Republican. And, in the suburbs, it’s 51-49%, depending on the year. And we’re a very closely divided country; we know that.

And so the good news is, if you want to win, nobody would want to ignore the rural areas of this country because if you did [then] that’s a surefire strategy for losing. You lose one-sixth [of] the votes in this country, and you will lose the election. So you’ll have to pay attention to those areas.

So far, you have 196 electoral votes out of the 270 needed for the Interstate Compact to activate. My final question is: What odds do you give for the next President to be decided by the national popular vote. 

I’m at 80-90%; there are a couple of bumps along the road, but I can see the path to 270. So our motto for the next four years is “270 by 2024,” and I think we’re going to get there

Thank you for your time today, Ray. 

Thank you.

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