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Alyssa Cass and Pat Rosenstiel don't agree on much about U.S. politics, but they do agree that the current system we have for choosing our president is fundamentally broken.

In a lot of ways, Cass and Rosenstiel couldn't be more different. Cass is a leading advisor to top Democratic politicians and advocates for Democratic policies at the national, state, and local levels. Rosenstiel, meanwhile, is a longtime Republican strategist who helped direct the grassroots efforts to get John Roberts and Samuel Alito onto the Supreme Court. And yet, they are working together on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). Their goal is simple: They want the U.S. to choose its president through a national popular vote, rather than the Electoral College. 

Both Cass and Rosenstiel agree on the fundamentals — that our current system makes the vast majority of votes irrelevant to the election outcome, that this reality is doing serious damage to Americans’ faith in democracy, that a national popular vote interstate compact can withstand legal challenges, and that each of their political parties is capable of winning a popular vote for president in the future. So, together, they are working to get individual states to sign onto a compact that would commit them to pledging their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote nationally.

And they are startlingly close. They already have enough states signed on to equal 209 electoral votes; all they need is 270 total electoral votes to change how presidential races are decided. Right now, Cass and Rosenstiel say enough additional states have already passed the compact in at least one state house chamber for them to hit the 270 threshold. Indeed, they're so close that they believe the 2024 race is going to be the last in which the Electoral College picks the president.

That belief represents a rather shocking, radical prediction about the near future of American politics. And 48 hours ago, I personally would have scoffed at it. But after my conversation with Cass and Rosenstiel, that’s no longer the case. I think they might be as close as they say they are, and they sound well-prepared for the legal challenges that are on the horizon.

What fascinated me about our conversation wasn't just the argument for a national popular vote for president, but also the way that argument is viewed through the lens of a Democrat and a Republican. In our conversation, you'll see the ways in which Cass and Rosenstiel frame the arguments differently for their political allies, but also the way their arguments overlap and support each other.

It was a fun discussion that has been lightly edited for length and clarity below. I hope you enjoy it, and please let us know what you think.

Isaac Saul: Alyssa, Pat, thanks for coming on the show. 

Pat Rosenstiel: Happy to be here. Thanks for having us.

Alyssa Cass: We are very stoked.

Isaac Saul: For our listeners who are unfamiliar with the concept of a national popular vote, could you walk us through the basics of what you're trying to achieve? What's the aim here?

Pat Rosenstiel: The National Popular Vote Bill is an interstate compact that would deliver a national popular vote for president in this country. “Interstate compacts” — that's a mouthful. What they are is simply agreements amongst the states. All the states are in several interstate compacts. One that most listeners might have heard of is the Powerball. All the states that participate in the Powerball agree to the terms of the Powerball Interstate Compact. Well, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact says when states with 270 or more electoral votes pass the bill — the interstate compact — those states will award their electors to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

So in layman's terms, when states with 270 or more electoral votes have our bill in place, we will have a national popular vote for president. Every voter in every state will be politically relevant in every presidential election, which 65% of the American people want, and this is the plan that gives it to them and delivers it. [Editor’s note: Rosenstiel is referring to a Pew Research poll from September 2023 that found 65% of U.S. adults believe “the way the president is elected should be changed so that the winner of the popular vote nationwide wins the presidency.”]

Alyssa Cass: Just to take a step back, Isaac, what we're really trying to achieve is super important. Let's take the moment we're in right now. We're in May of a presidential year, and we have nonstop, wall-to-wall coverage of the presidential election, but four out of five American voters will be ignored in November. [Editor’s note: You can read how NPV makes that determination here.] Pat and I believe that 2024 should be the last election where this is the case. Because when you ignore people's voices — when just a few thousand votes and a handful of states matter — the outcome isn't pretty. The current system leads to divisiveness, it allows battleground state courts to pick presidents, and it doesn't honor the fundamental principles of democracy that every voter should count equally in presidential elections. 

When I see total voter disengagement about the election, there are lots of reasons why, right? People don't like Trump, people don't like Biden. But I think sometimes we're missing the most fundamental thing: People like to be seen. If I ignore everything my boyfriend says all the time, he's gonna be pretty pissed off and not show up for me, and that's what's happening when we pick a president. Most voters in most states are totally ignored, and so they think politics and elections don't matter — and they're not wrong. For most of them, their voice isn't being heard. National Popular Vote is a way to make sure Americans are seen and recharge our democracy and our system of elections.

Isaac Saul: To get into the state of play here, Maine recently became the latest state to sign onto the compact. I believe you now have pledges from 17 states and Washington, D.C. That's 209 electoral votes. What happens when you hit 270? Is there an enforcement mechanism to ensure that states stand by their pledges? 

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