Michigan GOP lawmakers: National popular vote idea 'disastrous'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican lawmakers who control the Michigan Legislature say they "vehemently reject" the plan for the battleground state to award its presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote.

Seventeen of the 20 Republicans in the state Senate and 40 of the 57 GOP lawmakers in the state House, including the individuals many expect to be future leaders of the caucuses, signed a letter last week. The legislators' message, which is addressed to "Michigan voters," came after a ballot proposal committee announced a petition campaign that aims to have the state join the national popular vote compact.

If enough states agreed to the compact, pledging to give their electors to the winner of the national vote tally, future presidential candidates would have a new path to the White House.

Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R_Lawton

"It is imperative that the candidate who receives Michigan's electoral votes is determined by Michiganders — and not by voters in other parts of the country," the Republican lawmakers' letter said. "Simply put: Michigan's votes for president must only be determined by Michigan's voters.

"The voters of Michigan should not have their will determined by influences of other states. It would be a mistake to abandon a system so essential to our Republic."

The letter labeled the national popular vote proposal "a disastrous idea" that "should remain on the scrapheap of American history" and would mean Michigan surrenders its "relevance" as a swing state.

Among those signing onto the letter were current Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, the potential next Senate GOP leader, Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, and two of the top contenders to be the next House GOP leader, Reps. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, and Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale. Nesbitt and Hall spearheaded the effort to collect signatures on the letter.

Supporters of the national popular vote compact have contended their proposal ensures every vote in every state matters. After a years-long lobbying effort, a petition campaign launched Sept. 27 to have Michigan join the compact.

The new campaign, Yes on National Popular Vote of Michigan, has the support of former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer and former state Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis.

"National Popular Vote is not a Democratic or Republican idea, it’s an American idea. Republicans, Democrats and Independents support national popular vote because it applies the principle of one person, one vote to presidential elections," Anuzis said in a Monday statement. "As a proud Republican, I’m confident that our ideas can prevail, and Republicans can win elections under a national popular vote model.

"It also means every vote in every election counts, and that every voter, whether Republican or Democrat, would have their vote directly counted towards their preferred candidate for president."

The pro-popular vote group will try to gather 340,047 signatures to force votes on the policy in the state Legislature or on a future statewide ballot. Last year, Colorado approved a similar national popular vote proposal.

As it stands, each state is designated a number of Electoral College votes based on its membership level in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. In 2020, Michigan had 16 votes — a total that matched its 14 U.S. House members and two U.S. senators. Most states award their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote within their borders, and whichever candidate gets a majority, 270, of the 538 total electoral votes wins the presidency.

The system sets up a situation in which a candidate can win the popular vote nationally but not the country's top office, as happened in the 2016 race between eventual president Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Supporters of the national popular vote are attempting to get enough states to join the compact pledging to give their electoral votes to the winner of the raw national vote total. For the compact to work and take effect, the movement needs enough states to match 270 electoral votes. So far, 16 jurisdictions, 15 states and Washington, D.C., have joined with 195 electoral votes, according to the organization National Popular Vote. However, tallies for tracking the status of the effort can differ.

In their letter last week, the Michigan GOP lawmakers argued the proposed system "would make it easy for a presidential candidate to ignore policies important to Michigan on the campaign trail and in the White House."

Candidates for president visit Michigan "often and take note of the important issues at the forefront" of the state's mind, the letter added.

Michigan was a key battleground state in the last two presidential elections. In 2016, Trump won it by just 10,704 votes or less than 1 percentage point. In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden prevailed by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points.

cmauger@detroitnews.com