The War on the Electoral College: Bypassing the Constitution
How liberal groups are using conservative front men and exotic trips to assault the Constitution
Bypassing the Constitution
Amending the Constitution to remove the Electoral College is virtually impossible in today’s political climate, so instead NPV has opted for a compact of states that have passed national popular vote legislation, which will only take effect after enough states join, representing 270 electoral votes.
To date, the compact has reached 195 electoral votes, entirely from Democratic-run states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—and the District of Columbia. But that still leaves 75 electoral votes to nab, a challenge given that the campaign’s momentum ceased in 2019 when NPV bills failed in Democratic-run Maine and Nevada.
More importantly, NPV is running out of Democratic states. Shifting strategy to bring on Republicans has proven challenging. NPV has an image problem among conservatives, as it should.
NPV founder John Koza is a former Stanford University computer science professor best known for popularizing state-run lotteries and inventing the lottery scratch card. He’s also a regular donor to Democratic candidates who has twice served as a Democratic elector. Koza says that President George W. Bush’s “unfair” election inspired him to found NPV.
Koza is the main donor behind NPV, pumping perhaps as much as $28 million into the group, half of it in $2 million annual grants since 2014 (the exact amount is unclear). NPV denies that the project is left-wing, since “over 90%” of its donations have come in roughly equal quantities from Koza (“a pro-choice, pro-Buffett-rule, registered Democratic businessman”) and Tom Golisano (“a pro-life, anti-Buffett-rule, registered Republican businessman”), founder of the payroll services company Paychex.
But Golisano “pulled back from the campaign in recent years and is no longer involved,” according to Politico in 2017, and no other right-leaning donors besides him have been identified. Fred Lucas, an investigative journalist for the Daily Signal, also uncovered a few million dollars in grants to NPV from the left-wing Tides Foundation and the philanthropy of Jonathan Soros, son of George Soros, buttressing accusations of partisanship.
Most recently, the group used concerns over 2020 election integrity to try to whip up Republican support for its plan. Saul Anuzis, NPV’s top lobbyist and spokesman, blames the Electoral College for conservative frustration over election irregularities and problems. “Americans everywhere will have to live with another four years of questioned legitimacy surrounding another president,” Anuzis wrote in December 2020, “all because not every voter in every state was relevant in the 2020 election… The candidate with the most votes should win. That’s an American ideal.”
Anuzis points out that NPV’s plan is distinct from proposals from the left to simply abolish the Electoral College. “National Democrats favor the elimination of the Electoral College and using a direct national popular vote to elect the president,” he says, whereas NPV’s plan “is a bipartisan proposal that takes a federalist approach” to preserve the Electoral College and “states’ rights to regulate, administer, and determine how electors are chosen to [it] by using the national popular vote.”
Anuzis is head of the conservative 60 Plus Association and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party who ran for RNC chairman in 2011. He lost to Reince Priebus, in part because of his support for gutting the Electoral College. Anuzis resurfaced as an adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and later as a delegate representing Michigan in that year’s Republican Convention, where he voted to nominate Cruz despite Trump winning the state’s primary.
Anuzis got in hot water in 2011 for circulating a pro-NPV letter on bogus RNC letterhead after his request to use the elephant logo was denied by Priebus. When an Alaska Republican lawmaker confronted him, he told her, “Anyone can get the elephant off the internet.”
Anuzis represents the tip of the spear aimed at winning Republican support for NPV’s plan. The strategy is meant to make Republican lawmakers feel like they’re strengthening the Constitution when they’re actually undermining it.
NPV typically approaches GOP legislators in targeted states using well-known and trusted Republican lobbyists like Constantin Querard, a campaign consultant whose firm, Grassroots Partners, has been hired by at least 40 Republican state representatives and 19 senators in Arizona.
Querard was a registered lobbyist for NPV from 2015 to 2019, yet there are almost no registered transactions between him and any elected officials save two small “food or beverages” expenditures in 2016 for state Rep. Don Shooter, who was expelled from the house in 2018 after allegations of sexual harassment.
Sean Parnell, senior legislative director for the pro–Electoral College watchdog group Save Our States, believes he knows why. For the last decade, National Popular Vote has invited legislators on swanky weekend trips to expensive resorts in Sedona, Hawaii, and other luxury destinations to sell them on the group’s plan, paid for by its 501(c)(3) arm, the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections.
Although NPV has bristled at the mention of these lavish resort trips and in one instance denied paying for them, these junkets are well-documented across multiple states and numerous news articles. Strategically, they present a slick way to butter up elected officials on the institute’s dime, thereby avoiding embarrassing public disclosure forms.
“The first day is basically free time, according to what I’ve been told by legislator attendees,” Parnell explains—golfing, spas, dinner, whatever they want. “Day two is when they get down to business with half-day seminars on how this legislation is not only good for ensuring ‘one-person, one-vote,’ but how it’s good for getting Republicans elected. That’s the main thrust of their presentation.”
To his knowledge, the group has targeted Republican lawmakers, not Democrats, with few exceptions. Nor was it just legislators—in 2017 Politico reported that the institute flew eleven journalists to Panama for a three-day, all-expenses-paid seminar on election reform, where they were “aggressively” educated “in the pool, at the bar, overlooking the Panama Canal.”
Parnell, who learned of the seminars from elected officials who’ve attended them, stresses that he’s found no evidence of illegality or official ethics violations. He also admits that, in many states, no one was visiting legislators’ offices to explain why they should support the Electoral College, something Save Our States regrets. “We could’ve done a better job educating folks back then.”
In February 2016, Arizona house Republicans introduced national popular vote legislation (HB 2456) matching almost word for word the text of NPV’s model bill. It passed 40 to 16, with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats voting for the bill against 14 Republican and two Democratic nays. The bill only died in the state senate after local conservative groups flooded Republican state senators with messages urging them to oppose the compact.
Many of the lawmakers who voted for it still regret their vote, Parnell says, and blame NPV for bamboozling them. “Yeah, I got sucked in,” one Republican told him. Another frustrated legislator blamed lobbyists for getting him to vote for “this stupid thing.” A third blames the vote for him losing reelection in a 2020 primary.
Parnell believes that Anuzis and Querard were again trying to woo Arizona legislators as late as August 2021 with a seminar held in Sedona, but Republican interest has waned. “Republican legislators who felt burned by NPV’s lobbyists in 2016 are literally warning their new colleagues to avoid the compact,” he told me.
In the next installment, observe failed attempts to persuade Oklahoma, Georgia, and Michigan to join the compact.
This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of the American Conservative.