Frustrated after seeing another candidate secure the presidency without winning the national popular vote, mostly Democratic lawmakers in several capitols want their states to join a 10-year-old movement to work around the Electoral College.
In states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Mexico, legislators have said they plan to introduce legislation that would require their state’s Electoral College voters cast ballots for the presidential candidate who earns the most votes nationwide, regardless of the statewide results.
“Every vote in this country should have equal weight. The Electoral College is a relic of a bygone era, and we need to change this system,” said Connecticut state Sen. Mae Flexer, who filed a bill with several fellow Democrats requiring Connecticut to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Since 2006, 11 states have signed onto the compact, which require their Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. In theory it would take effect once it involves states representing at least 270 electoral votes, the threshold to win the presidency.
When people vote for president, they are really choosing the electors from the political parties. The college is made up of 538 electors, which corresponds to the number of a state’s seats in the U.S. Senate and House, plus the three votes allotted to Washington, D.C.
The states that have already passed legislation to join the group represent 165 electoral votes. Typically reliably Democratic states, the list includes California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C. – all where Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Republican Donald Trump.
Advocates note the measures have cleared several Republican-controlled legislative chambers, including the Arizona House this year. That bill did not come up for a vote in the GOP-controlled state Senate.
The compact wouldn’t benefit any one party, said Patrick Rosenstiel, a consultant to National Popular Vote, the group that has been pushing for the compact since 2006. Rather, the Republican said, it will encourage candidates to campaign in every state, regardless of its politics, and make every voter relevant.
“Right now we’ve got a system where the battleground states have all the political influence,” he said.
Clinton is the fifth presidential candidate to win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College. She received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump, according to an Associated Press analysis Tuesday after vote totals were certified, giving her the largest popular vote margin of any losing presidential candidate and bringing renewed calls to abolish the Electoral College. She benefited from solid wins in populous California and New York, while Trump narrowly won some battleground states.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said she will introduce legislation in January to do away with the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment, but it’s a longshot. An amendment would have to pass Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states within seven years.
Supporters of the compact are aiming to get enough states on board before the 2020 presidential election.
Some critics question, among other issues, whether Republicans will have the political desire between now and 2020 to push for national popular vote compacts in their states. The GOP now holds majorities in 33 legislatures.
Recent polling shows support for the Electoral College among Republicans is high following Trump’s victory, said Robert Alexander, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University and author of a book on the Electoral College.
“Certainly among Democrats, yes,” Alexander said of the will to join the compact. “But a lot of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, and there is way too much uncertainty for them to take that issue on for their own political futures.”
If there had been a recent instance of a Republican candidate losing the Electoral College but winning the national popular vote, there likely would be more support from GOP lawmakers for the legislation, Alexander said. According to National Popular vote, in 2016 there were 154 Republicans who sponsored the measures and 162 Democrats.
Battleground states like Ohio have little motivation to give up the attention they receive from presidential candidates, Alexander said. And he wondered what would happen if a state with a law binding its electors to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote – as is the case in more than half the states – joins the compact.
“Which would take precedence?” he said. “The state’s binding law or the interstate compact?”