Salem, Oregon (AFP) – When the Electoral College meets on Monday, its critics hope it will mark the beginning of the end of a system that has jumped twice this century to the loser from the popular vote for the presidency.
This year’s presidential race provides the latest impetus for change for proponents of the National Pact for interstate popular vote. While Democrat Joe Biden scored a decisive victory over President Donald Trump in both the popular vote and the Electoral College, the race fell to narrow margins in a few swing states.
If results appeared differently in some of those states, Trump would have lost the popular vote in the second straight election but won the presidency due to the Electoral College system.
“It’s an ugly old mess that frankly should have been avoided some time ago,” said Mark Levin, a Virginia member of the House of Delegates, a Democrat who has introduced a bill that would make Virginia sign the National People’s Voting movement. It will compel member states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote.
Levin’s action passed the Virginia Building earlier this year. Passing the Senate would bring the movement closer to 13 electoral votes to its goal.
To date, 15 states and the District of Columbia have signed.
For presidential candidates, the 270 represents the number of electoral college votes needed to secure victory. The move toward a national popular vote is also aimed at this magic number. It has already secured 196 and aims to win more next year. Advocates hope it will, perhaps unrealistically, be enforced by the next presidential election in 2024.
Under the current system, the electoral votes for each state go to the candidate who won the popular vote in that state, and the runner-up gets nothing. Nebraska and Maine are the only exceptions.
National Popular Vote, the group pushing the deal, will focus in 2021 on Virginia and eight other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Spokesman Patrick Rosenstiel said the initiative has made progress in those states by passing at least one legislative chamber, but it did not specify a finish line.
They have a total of 88 electoral votes, which is enough to surpass 270 votes.
“We will focus on any state that offers a credible opportunity to enact the law between now and the 2024 presidential election,” Rosenstil said.
Success in these countries is far from assured. In the modern era, the Electoral College has benefited from Republican candidates – George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 winning the presidency after losing the popular vote. Among the states targeted next year, Republicans will control the Houses of Parliament in Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Oklahoma, and one chamber in Minnesota.
However, even in Nevada, where Democrats control the legislature and the governor’s office, the case is hard to sell.
And last year, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoed a measure backed by Democratic lawmakers that would have bound Nevada to the deal.
The Democratic governor said the deal “could reduce the role of smaller states like Nevada in national election competitions.”
Nevada has been a coastal state for several presidential elections, including this year. This brought about a halt to his campaigning by Trump and Biden, which would not have been lavished on the 3 million Nevada residents if the current system did not exist.
Under the Electoral College, the number of electoral votes per state equals the size of its congressional delegation. Wyoming, America’s least populous state, has two senators and one representative, so you get three. California, the most populous state, has 55.
To win the White House, a presidential candidate must collect at least half of the total 538 electoral votes plus one – or 270. This system has issued a presidential ruling split five times, with a candidate winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote.
According to the Pew Research Center, the United States is the only modern democracy with such a system. Most others elect their leader by popular national vote or parliamentary system in which the winning party chooses the head of government.
Opponents argue that the US system violates the principle of one vote for one person, encourages candidates to ignore states that are either resolutely democratic or republican, and grants unequal power to voters in a few states.
But supporters of the Electoral College say it is committed to federalism by maintaining the role of states in the presidential elections.
If the regime change movement reaches the 270 threshold, these supporters may file a lawsuit on constitutional grounds. The constitution states that Congress must approve interstate charters. However, the US Supreme Court ruled that some charters do not require congressional approval.
“We believe the Supreme Court precedent indicates that this additional step is not necessary,” the National People’s Voting Party Chairman John Cosa said in an interview. “Nevertheless, the National Popular Vote is working to seek charter support in Congress.”
After Bush and Trump won the White House despite losing the popular vote, the pressure for regime change became more partisan.
“This is why countries with a democratic majority care more than countries with a Republican majority,” said Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting at the National Convention of State Legislatures.
Democrats control the fifteen legislatures that have passed a national popular vote bill since 2007: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
It was also approved by the Council of the District of Columbia, controlled by the Democrats, with three electoral votes from the nation’s capital.
Cosa said that more than a decade ago, when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, was in office, it was sometimes a partisan issue in reverse.
For example, a national popular vote passed the Republican-controlled New York Senate at the time, but not the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
“This is an issue that people look at in a very partisan, short-term way, and the Democrats feel they have a lock on the White House,” Cosa said.
Legislatures in the Midwest and South have moved away from joining the accord. Even the South Dakota legislature passed a resolution this year incriminating him.
The decision states, “The current Electoral College system creates the required balance between rural and urban interests and ensures that the winning candidate receives support from multiple regions of the country.”
State Rep. Tina Mulally, who introduced the decision, said in an email that the Electoral College enhances the political influence of smaller states like South Dakota and protects minorities.
She said the national popular vote would be “like two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s at dinner.”
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky