The National Popular Vote Initiative: Not quite right, not now, not for Nevada

By Clint Holeman

On March 21, I spent the afternoon at the Legislature watching the National Popular Vote Initiative (NPVI) Compact committee hearing. I was originally a supporter of the NPVI. Now, after doing some serious research, I have serious reservations about Nevada jumping on board -- at least for the time being.

NPVI point men are Scott Drexel, a California fundraiser, and Saul Anuzis, a former chair of the Michigan Republican party. The NPVI organization is headquartered in CA, as is Drexel. None of the Compact principals are from Nevada, nor is there any permanent organizational presence in the state. There is no grass-roots effort to pass this Compact. They have retained Danny Thompson as a local lobbyist.

As a former D.C./Capitol Hill lobbyist, I admired the polished, professional approach and presentation by Drexel, Anuzis, and their side-kick Danny Thompson. I have rarely seen a better, smoother committee presentation. With the exception of repeatedly mispronouncing our state name, they have clearly done their homework -- although after delivering probably more than 100 presentations, they should be good at it. They have been lobbying our legislators since well before the session began and convinced the powers that be to introduce the measure as a Committee Bill with a raft of Assembly sponsors. It has truly been a pro job all the way. I do wonder, as a follow-the-money kind of guy, how much dough was laid down to make this happen, though -- and who got it.

The NPVI movement is feeding off the anger Democrats feel about Hillary Rodham Clinton losing the Electoral College, whilst winning the popular vote -- shades of Al Gore. And the Electoral College does have its issues, being a relic from the 1800s. It also, however, provides for smaller states to have more say when "battling" larger ones for the attention (and campaign coffers) of candidates. Which is not all bad for Nevada, a state with only six electoral votes.

The NPVI folks have found that battleground states get a good bit more attention and campaign money than non-battleground states. In 2016, Nevada received about $55 million. And while your average citizen doesn't get much of that, many businesses within Nevada do. That would likely be significantly diminished or go away entirely with the passage of NPVI.

Support for NPVI seems to depend on which side of the small state vs. big state fence you're on, and which side of the political spectrum you're on. The so-called red states, using their gerrymandered advantages, prevailed in the Electoral College. Some of that gerrymandering has recently been found unconstitutional and will be corrected -- and some slid by and won't.

Here in Northern Nevada, we routinely experience the "tyranny of the majority" -- we are often the flea on the tail end of the Las Vegas dog, with little input, nearly no voice, and sometimes even less respect. If Nevada joins this Compact, with our 6 votes of 270, the process will be controlled entirely by the larger states and their votes. And that is a simple fact.

A big claim from the NPVI lobby is that we can try it and, if we don't like it, we can quit the Compact. That is true, but we would end up going through a similar and equally difficult legislative process with unknown results at that time. Additionally, withdrawals from the Compact are not allowed within six months of an election. This could be problematic. Imagine if we'd been in such a Compact and didn't like where the popular vote looked to be heading, say, in June. Regardless, we would have been bound by the Compact.

There are other issues, as well. While the Compact is assumed to be constitutional, it would require approval by Congress -- a problem this year, no doubt, and even if not, it would doubtless be litigated extensively and all the way up to the Supreme Court. And there is no provision in the Compact about who is to pay for the legal battle and how the cost will be divided. As a small state, Nevada is likely not to have much say in that matter, either.

This Compact has been around for over a decade. They have 165  electoral votes committed and need to get to 270. So why do we Nevadans need to rush to join this Compact now? Our six  electoral votes will be more valuable, and likely generate more advantageous support, if we wait until the Compact is at, say, 250-260 votes committed. In waiting, we will have lost nothing, and maybe will have gained significant pledges of support from the NPVI in the meantime. If we join the Compact now, there is no incentive to do anything for us. They will already "own the cow". There will be no need to pay for the milk.

Clint Holeman is a retired former government affairs specialist and Washington, D.C. lobbyist, specializing in defense issues. He has also run an ad agency in S. F..  He now lives the good life in rural Northern Nevada.