One state is about 60% Catholic, the other about 60% Mormon. One state gave Barack Obama 63% of the vote in 2008; the other gave him just 34%. One state is just 37 miles long; the other is 350 miles long.
Utah and Rhode Island are arguably the two most dissimilar states in the Union. However, despite their religious, political, and geographic differences, there is one major parcel of common ground between these two states: They are both electorally irrelevant and both would benefit greatly from the National Popular Vote Plan.
The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states would agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently 8 states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.
Despite contemporary belief, the present winner-take-all system of awarding Presidential electors was not part of the grand design of the Founding Fathers. In fact, the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked as to the method of electing the President. They decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states in awarding their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way that they see fit.
Rhode Island has not been competitive in Presidential politics since Ronald Reagan’s 49-state landslide win in 1984. In 2008, 38 of the state’s 39 municipalities voted for Barack Obama. Due to the state’s Democratic slant, no serious effort is made by Presidential nominees to contest the state. Republicans concede the Ocean State to the Democrats before the starting pistol is fired, signaling the beginning of the campaign season. Accordingly, Rhode Island commercial fishermen, struggling with ambitious catch limits, have no seat at the electoral table. The debilitating decline of the state’s manufacturing jobs (Rhode Island lost more manufacturing jobs per capita between 2001-2011 than any other state) is a null set to Presidential candidates who are more concerned about manufacturing jobs in swing states, the states which determine the outcome of the election. In addition, the effects of trade agreements on Rhode Island’s textile industry are not likely to receive a fair hearing from the Presidential candidates.
Contrariwise, Utah has not voted for a Democrat for President since Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964. Because of Utah’s status as a Republican citadel, candidates make the electoral calculation to not even attempt to court their votes. In 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton designated 1.7 million acres of canyon land located in Utah as a national monument, thus making this property off-limits to development. Clinton did this despite widespread opposition from the entire Utah Congressional delegation and Utah’s voters. Interestingly, Mr. Clinton signed the order not in Utah, but in Arizona, a showdown state where the move was seen as very popular. Because of its strong Republican proclivities, Clinton had conceded Utah to the Republicans before the election season began.
In fact, the nation owns about 70% of the land in Utah. Local politicians and residents want more autonomy over the land for the purpose of drilling for oil to help fund public education. However, because Utah is not a swing state, Federal Government officials usually meet their pleas with deaf ears.
The National Popular Vote Plan would create a climate in which every vote would be equal. The disincentive to wage active campaigns in these two “safe states” would be eliminated. No voter would have a geopolitical advantage over other voters. Candidates would no longer exclusively focus on about 15 “showdown states” while completely ignoring the majority of Americans who live in safe states.
The National Popular Vote Plan has brought together strange political bedfellows. The Plan enjoys bi-partisan support from the high command of both the College Democrats and the College Republicans at the University of Utah. The lead sponsor in Utah is Republican State Senator Howard Stephenson. The lead sponsor of the plan in Rhode Island is Democratic State Senator Erin Lynch. The National Popular Vote Plan is supported by over 70% of voters in both states.
Rhode Island and Utah stand at the far ends of the continuum of American politics. Despite this political polarity, the stars have aligned and the two states share a common interest: to actually matter in Presidential elections. The National Popular Vote Plan will give voters in Utah and Rhode Island their coveted seat at the electoral table.