State could soon give electoral votes to winner of national popular vote

DOVER — Legislation that would give Delaware’s three electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes nationwide rather than in the First State is poised to become law. By a 24-17 vote, the House on Thursday sent the bill to Gov. John Carney, who has said he will sign it.

Two Democrats joined the Republican caucus in voting against the proposal, which passed the Senate 14-7 last week.

Senate Bill 22 would award Delaware’s votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote once states representing a majority of electoral votes pass the bill. Currently, the provision is law in 11 states plus Washington D.C., although the legislatures in three states — Colorado, New Mexico and Delaware — have also passed the bill.

Assuming the governors of all three states sign the bill, as they are expected to do, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would total 189 electoral votes, 70 percent of the way to the magic number of 270.

The change would likely not go into effect before 2024.

The bill would not eliminate the Electoral College. Doing so would require amending the U.S. Constitution, which necessitates approval from Congress or a constitutional convention.

To backers, the national popular vote would help solve two major problems with the current system: the candidate who receives the most votes from Americans doesn’t always win the election and many states are essentially taken for granted because they are considered strongly Democratic or strongly Republican.

“The unfortunate reality of how the Electoral College developed into how it operates today is that the vast majority of the country is already ignored,” Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, said. “It’s taken for granted, it’s not paid attention to either in the policy proposals and the messaging used by presidential campaigns, and unfortunately Delaware is one of those states.

“During the last election, despite how close it was, neither candidate came to the state of Delaware during the general election. … What moving to a popular vote would do is it would bring every vote in Delaware to equal footing to everyone living in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, or Delaware County, Ohio, places like that where the votes are seen as so much more important to the candidates running for office.”

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.

But opponents see the proposal as a reaction to the 2016 election and as a way to get around amending the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College entirely. Crucially, they note, it could also result in the will of Delawareans being negated.

“While not perfect, the Electoral College has been an effective mechanism for over 230 years in selecting our nation’s leader. The bill would circumvent that system,” said Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden.

“With a track record of success — at times you may not like the outcome — but it has been a 230-year process that has worked. More importantly, this bill surrenders the authority of our citizens to determine which presidential candidate is deserving of our state’s electoral votes and transfers it to voters in the other 49 states.

“I believe those who vote in favor of this bill will be stripping our citizens of the right to self-determination in presidential elections.”

The winner of the presidential election has lost the popular vote on five occasions: 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016.

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 pointed out in arguing it’s not just Democrats who might benefit. 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.

The year 2004 was the last time Delaware voted for a candidate who failed to gain a plurality of votes from Americans across the country. Before that election, Delaware had gone for the winner of the popular vote in 13 consecutive presidential contests.

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. Both New Mexico and Colorado last voted for the GOP nominee in 2004, while Delaware most recently voted for a Republican for president in 1988.

During the brief floor debate Thursday, Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, questioned what Rep. Bentz would say to his constituents if a Democrat won the most votes in Delaware but the state’s electoral votes were given to a Republican who won nationwide.

“What I’m OK with is moving toward a system where the person who gets the most votes is elected president of the United States,” he replied.

Eliminating the Electoral College entirely would be the “cleanest solution,” Rep. Bentz said afterward, but because that does not fall under the jurisdiction of the First State, the General Assembly chose to give residents “an equal say to people living in swing states” by changing how Delaware assigns its electors.

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

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