What Michigan could lose with National Popular Vote

Beware efforts to turn features of our constitutional system into bugs

As it stands, the candidate the most people of Michigan vote for in a presidential election is the candidate who gets our 15 electoral votes. Winner-take-all is a good system.

Under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, that would no longer be true. If Michigan joins the compact, we could experience the first loser-take-all election in our state’s history.

Advocates for National Popular Vote tend to leave that part out. Here’s what they’re not telling you.

Under the compact as written, a candidate could lose Michigan and still win its electoral votes. Not some of them. All 15.

The interstate compact would take effect when states with at least 270 electoral votes have signed on. That’s a majority of the 538 electoral votes, the same number it takes to win the presidency.

Right now, the compact has 205 of the 270 votes it needs to go into effect. With Michigan it would have 220. State Rep. Carrie Rheingans, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a bill last year that would add Michigan to the compact.

If the compact goes live, every state will vote as a bloc for whoever won the national popular vote. Even if the candidate lost that state.

Beware efforts to turn features of our constitutional system into bugs that need fixing. Michigan’s winner-take-all system has been described as “outrageous.”

“In 2016, for example, all of Michigan’s then 16 Electoral College votes were assigned to Donald Trump simply because he received just 10,704 more votes than Hillary Clinton,” national popular vote advocates wrote recently in an opinion piece. “In effect, all 2,268,839 votes Hillary received in Michigan were counted in the Electoral College as if they were votes for Trump.”

If you don’t like it when a candidate gets every vote after winning by a thin margin, you’ll really hate it when the loser gets every vote. Under a National Popular Vote system, wide victory margins in states like California or Texas would drown out the will of the people of Michigan.

Winner-take-all is the nationwide default for a reason. Only two states, Maine and Nebraska, choose a different system. And in both of those states, electoral votes are awarded by congressional district and the statewide winner gets two additional votes. That is to say, in all 50 states it matters who wins that state.

Only in the event of a nationwide tie would the people of Michigan decide who gets our votes. With 150 million votes cast nationwide, this is unlikely.

Some argue that the Electoral College is no longer needed.

But the Electoral College is a good system. There’s an obvious solution for those who feel otherwise: direct election of the president. Go the long, hard way and seek a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This was the path of the 17th Amendment, which allowed direct election of United States senators.

Constitution-level reform can be done and has been done. It’s just not easy.

It will take a consensus for change that nobody is building, because they’re too busy looking for workarounds.

James David Dickson is a Detroit News columnist and managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at This column first ran on Feb. 21 in The Detroit News.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.