Jacques: Dems are (partly) right on the popular vote

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., waves to supporters as she takes the stage during an event to formally launch her presidential campaign, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Lawrence, Mass.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ignited a lively debate this week about doing away with the Electoral College.

At an event in Mississippi the Democratic presidential candidate said: “My view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

Fellow presidential contender Beto O’Rourke of Texas chimed in, saying he thought moving on from the Electoral College was wise.

Ever since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election, despite winning 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, Democrats have consistently called for a different way of electing presidents — one in which the national popular vote is recognized.

More:Jacques: A makeover for presidential elections?

Yet Democrats aren’t alone in wanting this type of change. Plenty of Republicans do, too.

A less radical (and more realistic) alternative to Warren’s proposal is called the National Popular Vote interstate compact, and it’s gained steam in recent weeks. Colorado officially signed on last week, making it the 12th state, along with Washington, D.C., to do so. New Mexico and Delaware legislatures have also passed bills, and are awaiting signatures from their governors.

How the compact would work: States must first pass laws to join, pledging to deliver all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of the tally in their individual states. Once enough states band together and reach 270 electoral votes (the number needed to win an election), then the presidency would go to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The electoral votes already secured by the National Popular Vote is 181, meaning it is 89 shy of reaching its target.

Participation is voluntary and states can withdraw as easily as they joined. And the Electoral College isn’t erased from the Constitution, so the arduous process of amending that document is avoided.

Michigan lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced bills to join the interstate compact last September. The National Popular Vote bill in the Senate was sponsored by 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats — a truly bipartisan effort. Yet the bills stalled in their respective committees.

Patrick Rosenstiel, a senior consultant with the National Popular Vote, says he’s confident the measure will come up again this session in Michigan. And it should.

As supporters of the compact argue, moving to a popular vote is the fairest way to elect a president, and it would create a more even playing field among all states. Currently, 12 swing states get nearly all of the attention in presidential campaigns, while the vast majority of voters are ignored. 

“This would amplify every voter’s voice in presidential elections and right-size battleground states,” Rosenstiel says.

President Trump had been a longstanding supporter of the popular vote (he once called the Electoral College a “disaster for democracy”). Following Warren’s comments, however, he has abruptly changed course.


Still, there are sound arguments for the compact.

Hillsdale College economics professor Gary Wolfram testified in favor of the Michigan bills last year, even though he’d initially had doubts. 

“My thought was this was an attempt to get rid of the Electoral College, and was in conflict with the Founders’ ideas of how the president should be chosen,” he said. “But upon further reflection I came to see that it was instead a mechanism to overcome the shortcomings of the winner-take-all systems adopted by nearly all of the states while still preserving the ability of states to decide how their electors would vote within the Electoral College.”

Democrats like Warren and O'Rourke should consider the National Popular Vote as a better option for addressing their voting concerns while also safeguarding the Constitution.