A common argument made in favor of NPV (or any national direct election plan) is that it keeps votes from being “wasted.” Editorialists such as this one argue, for example, “Did you know that the 1.2 million votes John McCain received in our state in 2008 did not matter? Those 1.2 million voters might just as well have stayed home because all 11 of Washington’s electoral votes went to Barack Obama.”
Such arguments sound appealing at first glance, but they fall apart upon closer inspection.
In our federalist presidential election system, we conduct 51 purely democratic elections: one in each state, plus one in the District of Columbia. These state-level results are combined during a second, national election among the states. Thus, 1.2 million votes for McCain were not wasted in Washington. They were simply cast on the losing side of a popular vote within that state. Similarly, 1.4 million voters in Washington cast votes for Dino Rossi in a gubernatorial election that year. Were these votes "wasted" because Christine Gregoire won? Obviously not. Rossi supporters simply failed to achive a winning plurality.
To look at it another way, if the 2008 election had been conducted based on nationwide popular vote totals only, would people claim that any vote for McCain – anywhere in the nation! – was “wasted” because Obama won the national popular vote? Of course not. The votes for McCain were cast in an effort to win. In the event of a loss, they would simply have been votes for the losing candidate—just like any other election.
Originally posted on Tara's Facebook page at: http://on.fb.me/pOTXZj