Presidential national popular vote bill moves to House

 

DOVER — The Delaware Senate passed legislation Thursday that would tie the state’s three votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote rather than the candidate who gets the most votes in the First State. The bill was approved 14-7, with every Democrat and two Republicans backing it.

It now goes to the House, where it will likely be voted on next week. Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, supports the measure.

Senate Bill 22 would award Delaware’s electoral votes to the victor of the national popular vote, although the change would not apply unless states comprising a majority of electoral votes pass the measure.

If supporters are able to get states that collectively represent at least 270 electoral votes to commit to backing the presidential candidate who earns the most votes from Americans nationwide, the interstate agreement formed by the bill would take effect.

The measure has been passed in 11 states and Washington D.C., with Colorado set to join them soon. Counting Colorado, those jurisdictions total 181 electoral votes, meaning supporters are two-thirds of the way to the magic number.

In all likelihood, the shift would not take effect before 2024.

The bill would not eliminate the Electoral College. Doing so would require amending the U.S. Constitution, which necessitates approval from two-thirds of Congress or two-thirds of state legislatures.

Backers argue the measure would make non-swing states more important in presidential elections, while opponents counter it is simply a reaction to the 2016 election and could cause Delawareans’ votes to essentially be ignored.

“This legislation is the kind of independent use of state authority that our founders intended states to have at their disposal and to use when their national-level results or culture stray too far from what is best for states and, ultimately, the country as a whole,” main sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said.

But Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, characterized the proposal as unfair, noting it could render the choice made by a majority of Delawareans moot.

“I think if this system goes into effect and it goes against the Democrats, they will clamor back into the legislation and try to fix it,” he said afterward. “I just don’t like the idea of, if you need to run an election in Delaware and if you run an election in Delaware, then Delaware’s electors should reflect that.

“And I dislike the idea of, like I said, we could have a favorite son or favorite daughter who wins overwhelmingly but somebody else wins the popular vote, Delaware’s votes don’t go to the one we voted for overwhelmingly. And I use the example of (a Democrat winning Delaware but a Republican winning the election) but it could go either way.”

The winner of the presidential election has lost the popular vote on five occasions. While three of those occurred in the 19th century, two of the past five presidential contests saw the candidate who received the most votes fall short in the Electoral College.

In 2000, Republican George W. Bush earned about 50.5 million votes, while Democrat Al Gore picked up almost 51 million. However, the GOP ticket squeaked by with 271 electoral votes. Sixteen years later, Republican Donald Trump got approximately 63 million votes, about 2.9 million less than Democrat Hillary Clinton, but received 304 electoral votes.

A similar situation almost happened in 2004, supporters of the bill have noted. That year, approximately 62 million votes went to President Bush, while Democrat John Kerry collected just over 59 million. However, had 60,000 votes for President Bush in Ohio gone to his opponent, the then Sen. Kerry would have won the White House with 271 electoral votes.

Because so many parts of the country are solid blue or solid red, only a handful of states really matter in presidential contests, backers say.

“What happens is if you’re not a battleground state, if you’re not competitive in the process, it doesn’t matter if you’re big or small, it doesn’t matter if you’re rural or suburban,” Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and a proponent of the legislation, told lawmakers.

The Electoral College was created partly because the Founding Fathers were concerned a few states would dominate presidential elections, he said, but that is what has happened, with about a dozen states assuming outsize importance for those seeking the White House.

According to the National Popular Vote interstate compact, 94 percent of campaign events in 2016 were in 12 states, with 68 percent occurring in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Swing states also receive more federal grants and other benefits, the compact says.

The Delaware House passed a similar bill in 2009 and 2011 almost solely along party lines, but it did not receive a vote in the Senate on either occasion.

While backers characterized the measure as bipartisan and it did get two Republican votes Thursday, the four GOP representatives on the bill removed their names as cosponsors this week. Notably, none of the 12 jurisdictions that have already approved the act have voted for the Republican nominee for president in any of the last seven such contests.

Cosponsor Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Marshallton, noted the method of assigning electors has changed over time. The Constitution allows states to select electors as they see fit, although some have argued the bill is unconstitutional because Congress has authority over interstate compacts.

Forty-eight of the 50 states use a winner-take-all method, with Maine and Nebraska splitting their votes based on the candidate who collects the most votes in their congressional districts.

Contrary to what opponents fear, the national popular vote agreement would assign greater importance to small states like Delaware, backers believe.

“It’s no longer the size of your state that matters, it’s the margin,” Mr. Anuzis said.

But Sen. Bonini rejected that argument.

“This will absolutely be about big cities and metropolitan areas, because if I’m going to spend resources and it’s a straight popular vote, the difference of getting 2 percent more California voters versus getting 40 percent more Delaware voters, where am I going to spend my money?” he said.

“Two percent in California, right? … But the idea that every penny isn’t going to be spent on large population centers, I think is stunningly naive, and I think small states especially should stay away from this.”

President Trump in 2018 told Fox News he would prefer the president being selected by popular vote.

Aside from 2004, Delaware last voted for a candidate who lost the popular vote in 1948.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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