Slowly and with little notice, an effort to alter how we choose our presidents is making incremental gains.
It’s one of those sensible, pro-democracy things that, therefore and naturally, tends to get the old “no-chance” treatment.
Or it gets lost in the shuffle of presidential cycles dominated by attention to candidates, not process.
And in the current and surging cycle, who’s thinking about process when we can push, praise, or pick at Beto, Biden, Bernie, Booker, Buttigieg, et al., and President Donald Trump?
Yet, it’s out there. It deserves some notice.
I’ve watched it since 2008. Advocated for it. Still do.
It’s a way to make every vote in America count, to keep the Electoral College, to avoid amending the U.S. Constitution, and to decide elections on the stunningly simple premise that whoever gets the most votes wins.
Started in 2006 by a California-based nonprofit group, the National Popular Vote initiative seeks a compact of states to enact laws giving their electoral votes to whoever wins the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The Constitution (Art. II, Sec. 1) gives state legislatures control over their electoral votes.
If (or when) enough states join — and “enough” means, together, their electoral votes total at least 270, the number needed to win the Electoral College — picking presidents by popular vote kicks in.
There is some movement.
Colorado last week joined the compact, which now includes 12 states and D.C. (and, yes, D.C. has electoral votes, three of them), with a total of 181 electoral votes.
Also last week, Delaware’s legislature voted to join. Delaware Gov. John Carney indicated he’ll sign the bill. And New Mexico just passed a join-in bill that’s now sitting on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.
Plus, John Koza, chairman of National Popular Vote, said he’s optimistic Nevada, Oregon, Maine, and Michigan will join this year.
If that happens, the total electoral vote count, including those from Delaware and New Mexico, rises to 222 — just 48 shy of the needed goal.
“I think there’s an outside chance, though a very outside chance, we can get to 270 by 2020, because as other states see it getting close they’ll look at it more closely,” Koza said, “And, if not, I think we get it done by 2024.”
The issue could also emerge in the 2020 campaign.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren raised it Monday night at a Mississippi town hall event, though she called for national voting to replace the Electoral College. That would require amending the Constitution. The compact keeps the college.
Five presidents — John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush, and Trump — won election without winning the popular vote.
Still, the effort these days often is labeled as anti-Trump. But, as mentioned, it started in 2006, largely in response to Bush’s 2000 victory over Al Gore.
And, yes, states in or looking to join the compact are blue or lean-blue. So, it’s mostly seen as a pro-Democratic agenda item.
To me, it’s a pro-democracy agenda item. Just count the votes. If Republicans believe they lose if more people have a direct say in elections, maybe the party should concentrate on broadening its appeal to more people.
Where’s Pennsylvania, you ask?
(I can’t believe you’d ask. Don’t you know your state by now?)
Although our neighbors Maryland, New York, and New Jersey are in the compact — Maryland since 2007; New York since 2016; New Jersey since 2008 — we, of course, are nowhere near joining.
Measures have been introduced in Pennsylvania over the years, including last session by State Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Phila.), who plans to “eventually” introduce compact-joining legislation again.
But when I checked with Rabb this week, he noted: “Coordinators around this national movement are trying to get wins in state legislatures where there’s actually a critical mass of support. … Needless to say, Harrisburg doesn’t yet have the stomach for this type of push for representative democracy.”