A movement to elect the president by winner of the national popular vote would create a system that values every voter equally, according to a proponent.
But a critic said the change would simply “shuffle the deck” and shift the focus of presidential campaigns from battleground states to populated areas, ignoring much of rural America.
The national popular vote movement is focused on convincing state legislatures to sign onto an interstate compact to pledge their votes in the Electoral College to the winner of the national popular vote. Right now, virtually all states give all their electoral votes to the popular vote winner within the state.
The sides aired their positions in a debate Thursday night before a crowd of about 100 people in the Chemistry Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Currently, 14 states and Washington, D.C., representing 187 Electoral College votes, have adopted legislation to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact would take effect when states representing 270 electoral votes, the amount needed to elect a president, sign onto it.
Colorado, representing nine electoral votes, passed National Popular Vote Interstate Compact legislation, but the law has been suspended pending a vote on a veto referendum that will go before voters in November 2020.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would not eliminate the Electoral College. Instead, it would require a state to give all its electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, even if the majority of the state voted for the loser of the national popular vote tally.
Patrick Rosenstiel, senior consultant with National Popular Vote!, said, “I think the real intention of the national popular vote campaign is to ensure that every voter in this room – Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated, progressive, conservative, liberal – is relevant in every presidential election moving forward, and I don’t believe that the current system delivers on that.”
A vote by national tally, he said, gives every voter “a direct voice in the outcome of the national popular vote.”
However, Trent England, executive vice president and director of Save Our States, said the national popular vote movement is trying to do the impossible, “take the politics out of politics” and is filled with flaws even greater than the current Electoral College, state-based, winner-take-all system.
“It is unstable and untested, and the very legality of it is in question, whether it would have to be approved by Congress, whether you can give away a state’s power based on things that are happening in other states,” he said. “All of these are open questions. Legal questions that would have to be decided by federal judges.”
The current system, he said, prevents candidates from concentrating their campaigns in areas they are already popular.
“A politician can’t win the presidency by spiking the football, by running up the score in a place where he or she is already popular,” he said.