This approach, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, would see states pass legislation committing them to a binding agreement that they would cast all of their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The compact won’t come into effect until states which hold a majority of electoral votes have signed on. The WSJ article continues:
The debate hits full stride now in Colorado, a state that political analysts say presents a key test for the National Popular Vote project. So far, the states most receptive to doing away with the Electoral College have all been solidly Democratic — not the swing states that have been high-profile players in presidential elections.
But Colorado last year joined a small cluster of newly minted swing states that drew a disproportionate share of candidate visits and campaign spending. It will now help answer the question of whether swing states will take the leap.
As Nate Silver points out, only 50 EVs so far have been committed to the compact, and all the states who have passed the legislation or close to passing it have been very Democratic and very safe states when it comes to presidential elections.
Nate Silver further argues that there is a high hurdle to be jumped before any electoral college reform can gather enough steam to be passed:
What would it take for there to be a real chance of abolishing (or end-arounding, as the Compact seeks to do) the Electoral College? I think it would take two elections in relatively rapid succession in which there’s a popular:electoral split, particularly if these two elections are won by candidates of opposite parties. The memories of 2000 should linger for a few more cycles, and so if there’s another such occurrence before, say, 2020 or 2024, things could get very interesting.
Apart from the issues in getting it passed, the biggest barrier to electing the US President by popular vote is the current US system of election administration. Unlike the Australian Electoral Commission, elections are conducted on a very local level in the US, and votes are never counted across state boundaries. Indeed, there is no official record of the popular vote, it is simply tallied by media organisations based on state tallies of the popular vote.
In the case of an extremely close national vote, the issues that popped up in Florida in 2000 would take place on a massively expanded scale. On the other hand, a directly-elected presidency could be just the thing the USA needs to finally bring election administration completely under federal control.