The War on the Electoral College
After the disastrous Covid-inspired changes to the 2020 election, you might think the left is finished with voting reforms. But an even bigger effort is coming, one that promises to permanently hand Democrats a built-in advantage and all but ensure no Republican wins the presidency again.
Meet National Popular Vote, the group spearheading the campaign to destroy the Electoral College and abandon centuries of constitutional history in the name of saving democracy (read: electing Democrats). If NPV’s plans succeed, it would mean the end of elections as we know them, with would-be presidents shunting aside swing states and ignoring “flyover country” to schmooze voters in Manhattan and San Francisco. It would create the top-down nightmare that America’s founders fought desperately to prevent.
This campaign isn’t being waged just by left-wing activists but by trusted conservative lobbyists targeting Republican politicians in bright-red states. It’s the kind of deception mastered by leftists from Margaret Sanger to Saul Alinsky, fooling your opponents into believing they’re fighting you when they’re really fighting for you.
My colleagues and I at the Capital Research Center have exposed the plan to effectively federalize all future elections through a combination of hastily adopted vote-by-mail rules, privately funded drop boxes in major U.S. cities, and nonprofits that specialize in flooding mailboxes with absentee ballot forms in battleground states. That plan sits astride a larger “voting machine,” big foundations that pumped up 2020 Census figures in blue states, nonprofits that specialize in registering Democratic constituencies to vote, and a slew of pro-gerrymandering lawyers led by Eric Holder.
Together they reveal the radical left’s vision: one-party rule from Washington, D.C., with no pesky Constitution to stop them. NPV is the latest step in that plan.
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According to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, each state receives a certain number of electoral votes equal to its total number of U.S. senators and U.S. representatives (anywhere from 3 to 55 votes), which are reapportioned after each census. Those electors meet as a body every four years to vote for the next president and vice president, with the results sent to the president of the Senate (who is also the vice president) for approval during a joint session of Congress, during which objections to individual electors are considered. The candidate who receives a simple majority (270 votes) wins.
If that sounds inefficient or clunky, that’s the point. The founders’ careful strategy in establishing a representative republic hobbled by checks and balances also extended to the Electoral College, which was just as plodding in 1787 as it is in 2021. Elections were intended to be the domain of state legislatures, not the federal government, giving them broad discretion to run elections as they see fit including how to award electoral votes.
For most states, that means a winner-take-all system in which the statewide winner takes all of that state’s electoral votes. (Maine and Nebraska have opted for a different approach. Two electors are selected on a statewide basis, the rest by congressional district.) It’s meant to ensure smaller communities are represented at the national level instead of being drowned out by big cities. It isn’t actually that unique—numerous countries with parliamentary systems select their executives through the legislature, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Australia, and Japan.
But this is hopelessly undemocratic and out of date, according to National Popular Vote. The group formed in 2006 with the mission to eliminate the Electoral College by ignoring it.
NPV proposes that the candidate who wins the popular vote at the national level—which happens to be the Democrat in every election since 2008—should receive all electoral votes from states that adopt the NPV plan, regardless of whether the candidate wins that state’s popular vote. If every state were to pass NPV legislation, the winner of the popular vote would win all 538 electoral votes and the loser would win none.
NPV believes that its plan would cure the nation’s deep political polarization. But is that true?
Imagine an alternate 2016 election in which every state adopted the NPV plan. Hillary Clinton, not Donald J. Trump, would emerge the winner by a scant two million votes out of an electorate of nearly 124 million voters. Each of the 30 states that voted for Trump—including Pennsylvania and Michigan, which flipped into the GOP column for the first time since 1988—would have instead sent their 308 electoral votes to Clinton, even though she lost those and other swing states.
What message would that send to the Trump voters in the purple states that decided the 2016 election? Far from mending fences, bypassing the Electoral College would permanently alienate tens of millions of already disillusioned Americans by proving what they currently suspect: Their vote doesn’t matter.
American elections would never be the same. Instead of wooing voters in battleground states with small-to-middling populations—think North Carolina, Iowa, and Arizona—savvy campaigners would dedicate all their time to churning out absurdly high turnouts in the biggest states: New York, Texas, California, Florida, Illinois. Time spent campaigning in smaller states would be time wasted.
Few people realize the extent and power of the left’s network of professional voter registration and get-out-the-vote groups, which exist to produce votes for Democrats. Those groups are currently hindered by having to focus on swing states. Eliminating the Electoral College would simplify their strategy to greasing up a handful of major cities—Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago—instead of winning voters across entire states.
Deciding presidents by popular vote does away with the entire reason the Constitution gives states, not the federal government, the power to run elections. Urban voter turnout machines would decide the outcome of every election. It would transform presidential elections from a contest in which candidates sell their vision of the future to a skeptical nation to a twisted version of America’s Got Talent—in short, a popularity contest.
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Amending the Constitution to remove the Electoral College is virtually impossible in today’s political climate, so instead NPV has opted for a compact of states that have passed national popular vote legislation, which will only take effect after enough states join, representing 270 electoral votes.
To date, the compact has reached 195 electoral votes, entirely from Democratic-run states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—and the District of Columbia. But that still leaves 75 electoral votes to nab, a challenge given that the campaign’s momentum ceased in 2019 when NPV bills failed in Democratic-run Maine and Nevada.
More importantly, NPV is running out of Democratic states. Shifting strategy to bring on Republicans has proven challenging. NPV has an image problem among conservatives, as it should.
NPV founder John Koza is a former Stanford University computer science professor best known for popularizing state-run lotteries and inventing the lottery scratch card. He’s also a regular donor to Democratic candidates who has twice-served as a Democratic elector. Koza says that President George W. Bush’s “unfair” election inspired him to found NPV.
Koza is the main donor behind NPV, pumping perhaps as much as $28 million into the group, half of it in $2 million annual grants since 2014 (the exact amount is unclear). NPV denies that the project is left-wing, since “over 90%” of its donations have come in roughly equal quantities from Koza (“a pro-choice, pro-Buffett-rule, registered Democratic businessman”) and Tom Golisano (“a pro-life, anti-Buffett-rule, registered Republican businessman”), founder of the payroll services company Paychex.
But Golisano “pulled back from the campaign in recent years and is no longer involved,” according to Politico in 2017, and no other right-leaning donors besides him have been identified. Fred Lucas, an investigative journalist for the Daily Signal, also uncovered a few million dollars in grants to NPV from the left-wing Tides Foundation and the philanthropy of Jonathan Soros, son of George Soros, buttressing accusations of partisanship.
Most recently, the group used concerns over 2020 election integrity to try to whip up Republican support for its plan. Saul Anuzis, NPV’s top lobbyist and spokesman, blames the Electoral College for conservative frustration over election irregularities and problems. “Americans everywhere will have to live with another four years of questioned legitimacy surrounding another president,” Anuzis wrote in December 2020, “all because not every voter in every state was relevant in the 2020 election… The candidate with the most votes should win. That’s an American ideal.”
Anuzis points out that NPV’s plan is distinct from proposals from the left to simply abolish the Electoral College. “National Democrats favor the elimination of the Electoral College and using a direct national popular vote to elect the president,” he says, whereas NPV’s plan “is a bipartisan proposal that takes a federalist approach” to preserve the Electoral College and “states’ rights to regulate, administer, and determine how electors are chosen to [it] by using the national popular vote.”
Anuzis is head of the conservative 60 Plus Association and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party who ran for RNC chairman in 2011. He lost to Reince Priebus, in part because of his support for gutting the Electoral College. Anuzis resurfaced as an adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and later as a delegate representing Michigan in that year’s Republican Convention, where he voted to nominate Cruz despite Trump winning the state’s primary.
Anuzis got in hot water in 2011 for circulating a pro-NPV letter on bogus RNC letterhead after his request to use the elephant logo was denied by Priebus. When an Alaska Republican lawmaker confronted him, he told her, “Anyone can get the elephant off the internet.”
Anuzis represents the tip of the spear aimed at winning Republican support for NPV’s plan. The strategy is meant to make Republican lawmakers feel like they’re strengthening the Constitution when they’re actually undermining it.
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NPV typically approaches GOP legislators in targeted states using well-known and trusted Republican lobbyists like Constantin Querard, a campaign consultant whose firm, Grassroots Partners, has been hired by at least 40 Republican state representatives and 19 senators in Arizona.
Querard was a registered lobbyist for NPV from 2015 to 2019, yet there are almost no registered transactions between him and any elected officials save two small “food or beverages” expenditures in 2016 for state Rep. Don Shooter, who was expelled from the house in 2018 after allegations of sexual harassment.
Sean Parnell, senior legislative director for the pro–Electoral College watchdog group Save Our States, believes he knows why. For the last decade, National Popular Vote has invited legislators on swanky weekend trips to expensive resorts in Sedona, Hawaii, and other luxury destinations to sell them on the group’s plan, paid for by its 501(c)(3) arm, the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections.
Although NPV has bristled at the mention of these lavish resort trips and in one instance denied paying for them, these junkets are well-documented across multiple states and numerous news articles. Strategically, they present a slick way to butter up elected officials on the institute’s dime, thereby avoiding embarrassing public disclosure forms.
“The first day is basically free time, according to what I’ve been told by legislator attendees,” Parnell explains—golfing, spas, dinner, whatever they want. “Day two is when they get down to business with half-day seminars on how this legislation is not only good for ensuring ‘one-person, one-vote,’ but how it’s good for getting Republicans elected. That’s the main thrust of their presentation.”
To his knowledge, the group has targeted Republican lawmakers, not Democrats, with few exceptions. Nor was it just legislators—in 2017 Politico reported that the institute flew eleven journalists to Panama for a three-day, all-expenses-paid seminar on election reform, where they were “aggressively” educated “in the pool, at the bar, overlooking the Panama Canal.”
Parnell, who learned of the seminars from elected officials who’ve attended them, stresses that he’s found no evidence of illegality or official ethics violations. He also admits that, in many states, no one was visiting legislators’ offices to explain why they should support the Electoral College, something Save Our States regrets. “We could’ve done a better job educating folks back then.”
In February 2016, Arizona house Republicans introduced national popular vote legislation (HB 2456) matching almost word for word the text of NPV’s model bill. It passed 40 to 16, with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats voting for the bill against 14 Republican and two Democratic nays. The bill only died in the state senate after local conservative groups flooded Republican state senators with messages urging them to oppose the compact.
Many of the lawmakers who voted for it still regret their vote, Parnell says, and blame NPV for bamboozling them. “Yeah, I got sucked in,” one Republican told him. Another frustrated legislator blamed lobbyists for getting him to vote for “this stupid thing.” A third blames the vote for him losing reelection in a 2020 primary.
Parnell believes that Anuzis and Querard were again trying to woo Arizona legislators as late as August 2021 with a seminar held in Sedona, but Republican interest has waned. “Republican legislators who felt burned by NPV’s lobbyists in 2016 are literally warning their new colleagues to avoid the compact,” he told me.
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A similar story unfolded in early 2014 in Oklahoma, one of the country’s most conservative states, with large Republican majorities in the state house and senate.
Two former candidates for state house, Darren Gantz and David Tackett, reportedly served as NPV’s liaisons with local lawmakers, who were invited on expenses-paid, invitation-only panel educational seminars in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Miami, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.
As in Arizona, none of the expenses were reported on public disclosure forms because they were paid for by FairVote, a Maryland-based leftist group and NPV ally. FairVote is funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, and the Tides Foundation.
One official FairVote invitation to the JW Marriott resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, touted the benefits: three nights of guest accommodations and reimbursement for meals, provided attendees “commit to reviewing a collection of reading materials that will be provided by email before the meeting so that all participants can [be] ready to share their insights and questions in panel sessions” the following day.
In February, two senate Republicans and one Democrat introduced SB 906 to join the NPV compact, and sixteen Republicans joined all of the chamber’s twelve Democrats to pass the bill against eighteen Republican nays—this despite the fact that the state GOP officially opposed national popular vote legislation.
One local blogger called the vote a “betrayal”: “I’m told that Saul Anuzis, a consultant for the NPV movement…was working the corridors for the bill.… Anuzis and his colleagues persuaded some of our friends in the Senate that NPV could improve the Republican Party’s chances. Never mind that the NPV movement is funded and run by leftists who are hardly likely to back an idea that would help conservatives win the White House.”
Again, once grassroots groups caught wind of the bill, it soon died in the state House. Several Republican senators quickly recanted their support for the compact. But that wasn’t the end of the story. NPV returned a year later to push the same legislation through the House again, introduced by Republican Rep. Lee Denney. The Okie, Oklahoma’s self-described top political news blog, reported that NPV lobbyists were “at the Capitol every day, pushing the issue,” but it never left committee.
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NPV’s crusade extended to Georgia in 2016, when five Republicans—joined by then-Rep. Stacey Abrams—introduced a national popular vote bill in the state house. Companion legislation followed in the state senate, also with five Republican sponsors and one Democrat. Neither bill left its respective chamber after conservative groups met with the Republican legislators. Democrats have since introduced three more NPV bills in 2017, 2019, and 2021, but none garnered GOP support.
In 2018, NPV turned its sights on Michigan, which leans Democratic in presidential elections but has a comfortable Republican majority in the state legislature. Republican state senator Dave Hildenbrand introduced an NPV bill in September, which quickly died in committee. That death was in no small part thanks to local investigative reporters who unearthed evidence that the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections paid for 20-plus Republican lawmakers to travel to resorts in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and California (which, again, went unreported in public disclosure forms).
NPV is still trying to win over Michiganders with a ballot initiative started in September 2021, run by Anuzis and Mark Brewer, an election law attorney and former Michigan Democratic Party chair. It remains to be seen whether the initiative will reach enough signatures to make the next ballot.
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There’s one more element to the story the public should know.
According to its latest Form 990 filing, Saul Anuzis is vice president and board member for the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections, earning $104,000 in 2020 for the ten hours per week (that’s $200 per hour) he provided undescribed “services” to the organization, making him by far its highest-paid staffer. By comparison, Larry Lessler, the group’s board secretary and a Cupertino-based financial advisor, earned $31,500 last year in CPA fees from the group.
Anuzis’s salary is important because it represents nearly one-third of the institute’s $358,000 budget, and one sixth of its total revenues in 2020. The institute’s 2019 Form 990 also suggests that Anuzis collected $100,000 in fees as part of “Medaglia,” possibly referring to a difficult-to-trace firm in Washington, D.C. (Medaglia & Associates) listed in an older NPV Form 990 filing.
Anuzis’ political consulting firm, Coast to Coast Strategies, has pulled in at least another $330,000 in consulting fees from the institute’s 501(c)(4) sister, National Popular Vote, across three years (2019, 2016, and 2010).
Institute president Ray Haynes, a former Republican California assemblyman and state senator, is another principal at Anuzis’s Coast to Coast Strategies. Haynes has also received personal payments from both the institute and NPV for consulting services totaling at least $159,000 since 2016.
Yet that isn’t National Popular Vote’s only potential conflict of interest—or the most egregious. NPV president and co-founder Barry Fadem, a left-of-center election lawyer, has netted at least $1.4 million in consulting fees from the group since 2008. Institute chairman Patrick Rosenstiel heads Ainsley-Shea, a Minneapolis public affairs firm that has raked in at least $1.2 million from both groups since 2011.
As consultants, these payments present no problem and are in fact quite common. But as board members, the payments paint a picture of elite operatives enriching themselves off of a left-wing campaign that threatens to undermine the Constitution.
What’s clear is that the campaign to replace the Electoral College has hit the stumbling block of public perception. Conservatives in 2021 now understand what many folks misunderstood a decade ago: Any effort to dismantle, replace, or bypass the Constitution is a threat to the republic America’s founders established. Stripping out the Electoral College isn’t “fixing” the Constitution, but disemboweling it. Don’t expect the left to let up as long as activists believe their best chances at seizing power rest in destroying it.
This convoluted history also presents a clear message to conservative elected officials: If you back attempts to gut or ignore the Electoral College, be prepared to reap the whirlwind with your constituents and grassroots groups. After so many embarrassments, it seems Republican politicians have finally gotten the message—for now.
Hayden Ludwig is senior investigative researcher for the Capital Research Center.