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Blue states band together looking to bypass Electoral College

The Hill logo The Hill 3/3/2019 Michael Burke

Blue states band together looking to bypass Electoral College © The Hill Blue states band together looking to bypass Electoral College A plan to circumvent the Electoral College is gaining momentum among blue states after Democrats suffered two crushing defeats in presidential elections over the past two decades.

The plan has been given new impetus after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said this week that he will sign a bill to have his state become the 12th state along with the District of Columbia to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The states making up the compact, which already includes New York, Illinois and all the New England states except for New Hampshire, would commit to awarding their electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote nationally, regardless of the results in the Electoral College.

So far, these states, with Colorado, add up to 181 electoral votes, well short of the 270 needed to ascend to the White House.

Advocates are doubtful that enough states can join the compact for it to take effect by 2020, but hold hope of garnering enough support by 2024, as a handful of states like New Mexico also consider the measure, though proponents acknowledge the path to get to 270 will be far from easy.

Colorado state Rep. Emily Sirota (D), one of the sponsors of that state's legislation, said she sees the compact "as a way to ensure that every vote is counted equally" and force candidates to campaign nationwide instead of targeting a few battleground states that can deliver success in the electoral math.

"If we had presidential candidates campaigning across the country, instead of a handful of swing states, you'd see a lot more participation from across the country and I think that is good and healthy for our electoral process," Sirota told The Hill.

The renewed push comes after 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost the election that year despite winning the popular vote, the second time it has happened since the turn of the century.

The defeat was especially crushing to Democrats after a similar loss suffered by former Vice President Al Gore in 2000.

All states that are now part of the compact voted for Gore in 2000 and Clinton in 2016.

Colorado voted for Clinton last time but picked former President George W. Bush in 2000.

Critics of the Electoral College system have long argued it incentivizes candidates to target swing states with a bounty of electoral votes, while discouraging turnout by voters in states that are reliably red or blue.

Opponents of the current electoral system also say that electing a president through a popular vote could improve how presidents govern in office.

John Koza, the chairman of the National Popular Vote, a group that advocates for the compact, said the Electoral College "distorts" public policy by incentivizing presidents to cater to key swing states while in office, particularly in their first term.

"It's not only unfair that the second place candidate can win, it's also not good for the office of president or the country," he said.

"When you're sitting in the White House ... you say, 'What states do I have to win and what do I have to do to win them?' That's just not a good way for public policy to be set," Koza added.

Advocates of the compact are holding up hope that more steps will follow Colorado in joining the compact, which was first introduced in academic research papers as a way to effectively get rid of the electoral college system without going through the daunting process of a constitutional amendment.

The most promising is New Mexico, which has already passed a popular vote bill through one chamber and has a Democratic Governor.

Should it pass, the state would add 5 electoral votes to the compact, bringing the total to 186.

Meanwhile, legislators in 16 states have introduced bills this session seeking to join the compact, according to National Popular Vote.

Of those, Democratically-controlled Delaware, Maine, Nevada and Oregon look the most promising, with a total tally of 20 additional votes that could bring the total to 206 - though even there, the prospects are far from guaranteed.

Oregon state Rep. Diego Hernandez (D), a sponsor of the state's popular vote bill, said there may not be enough momentum in the current legislative session to pass.

"We have so many big issues we're tackling this session, when it comes to housing and the environment and education and revenue reform, that although the conversation's happening, I'm not sure that it's the top priority in terms of the collective agenda," Hernandez said.

But the prospect of passage in some of the other 16 states where a popular vote bill has been introduced look far less certain given many have split powers or are deep-red, like South Carolina or Mississippi.

Republicans are mostly opposed to any measure to derail the Electoral College system, seeing as unconstitutional.

Opponents of using the popular vote to elect presidents have long argued it would result in candidates catering to large cities and large states to rack up votes, which tend to have a bigger share of Democratic voters, ignoring smaller or rural areas.

Rose Pugliese, a county commissioner in Colorado, said in a tweet she had petitioned the Secretary of State not to award the state's votes to the winner of the popular vote, saying such a move "allows California and New York to decide Colorado's votes for President."

Nonetheless advocates of the compact remain hopeful.

Koza, the National Popular Vote chairman, said garnering the necessary support by 2020 was "theoretically" possible, but believed it was more likely by 2024.

"You never know how a bandwagon can get rolling," he said. "So at the moment, I couldn't name states that would get us there in time for 2020, although there's theoretically ways to do it. It seems perfectly plausible that we should get there by 2024."

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