The Real Reason Electoral College Reform Is Coming

It’s not about Hillary or Donald

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During President-elect Donald Trump’s otherwise frightening 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, in which he pledged to deport millions of immigrants and hinted that Roe v. Wade’s days are numbered, the new face of the Republican Party also expressed support for a political measure typically associated with progressives: Electoral College reform.

“Do you still think it’s rigged?” CBS’ Lesley Stahl asked, referring to the election.

“Some of the system is. I’m not gonna change my mind just because I won,” Trump said. “I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You get 100 million votes, and somebody else gets 90 million votes, and you win.”

In other words, Trump supports the national popular vote, something left-leaning politicians have tried to establish for decades. Former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, who wrote the 25th and 26th Amendments—which clarified presidential succession and lowered the voting age to 18, respectively—introduced a constitutional amendment to instate the direct popular vote six times between 1967 and 1977. Despite popular support, conservative filibusters foiled the efforts.

Today, legislative momentum for overturning the Electoral College is hotter than ever. Trump’s election, in which he received a majority of electoral votes but over 1 million fewer popular votes than Hillary Clinton (final vote counts are still being tallied), has the public again questioning the system’s efficacy. In response, Senator Barbara Boxer submitted a new bill Tuesday to abolish the Electoral College.

Because it would federalize the administration of the presidential election without involvement or oversight by states, something many congressmen oppose, Boxer’s proposal is a long shot. However, an alternative route to installing a popular vote election has never been closer to reality.

Since 2007, 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed a measure known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. By signing, states agree to pledge their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote—but only if an Electoral College majority make the same commitment. The plan would preserve the Electoral College and state control over electoral vote allotment.

Right now, the compact’s signatories account for 165 electoral votes, almost two-thirds of the 270 needed for a majority. And so far, while all of the states that have signed the compact consistently support democratic candidates, red states want in on the action.

“Our project is bipartisan,” Saul Anuzis, a member of the non-profit National Popular Vote and former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told GOOD. “I think it could go into effect by 2020.”

In the last two years, the compact passed in both the conservative-leaning Oklahoma Senate and Arizona House of Representatives. The bill also was introduced in Georgia’s Senate in February, where it was sponsored by 55 of the 61 state senators. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is rumored to play a leading strategic advisory role in Trump’s Cabinet, supports the national popular vote too.

The reason? Non-swing states, whether liberal or conservative, are tired of being ignored by presidential campaigns, which heavily focus on so-called “purple states” where electoral votes are reasonably up for grabs.

“It’s just crazy that (Trump and Clinton) spent more than 50 percent of their campaign visits in four big swing states,” Rob Richie, the executive director of electoral reform organization FairVote, told GOOD. “The Clinton-Kane ticket spent nearly a quarter, 24 percent, of their campaign events in only Florida. That’s [our] democracy. It’s just nutty.”

In turn, elected presidents enact policy that disproportionately helps these states. Anuzis believes steel tariffs and the federal government’s support for ethanol are direct results of Iowa and Pennsylvania’s status as swing states.

“When they’re presidents, they give grants differently. They are more likely to give discretionary grants to swing states,” Richie said. “That’s a perversion of what I think an electoral college should do.”

Other Republican officials have echoed this concern.

“What happens is we get ignored,” Arizona’s incoming Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who supports the compact, told “The point is what’s good for Arizona.”

If the compact passes in Arizona, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Michigan (where a compact bill has been introduced to the state senate), the plan would have 215 of the 270 electoral votes needed.

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