Editorial: Michigan should pass National Popular Vote

The Detroit News
"Both chambers should assure that whoever becomes president does so with the support of the majority of voters."

Five times in American history presidents have moved into the White House without winning the popular vote, including the most recent president, Donald Trump, who was outpolled by Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes.

Inevitably, that leads to claims of an illegitimate administration, even though the Constitution spells out that the winner of presidential elections is selected by the Electoral College, and not by the actual vote tally.

That could change — without a constitutional amendment — if enough states adopt the National Popular Vote initiative. Legislation to do so was introduced in the Michigan House Thursday.

It's a simple but brilliant concept for avoiding the nearly impossible task of amending the Constitution.

States have always had the option of choosing how they wish to award their electoral votes. Most give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state, but they can also allot them by the winner of congressional districts, as Nebraska and Maine do, or divide them proportionately.

The National Popular Vote initiative asks states to adopt a law that awards all of their electoral votes to the candidate who garners the most votes nationally. If enough states sign on to comprise a majority of the electoral votes — 270 — it would reconcile the popular vote with the Electoral College. 

Currently, 11 states and Washington, D.C. — with a total of 172 electoral votes — have signed on. If Michigan adds its 16 votes, it would take the number to 188. Legislation is also pending in Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, which would add another 53 electoral votes, bringing National Popular Vote near to reality.

Passage would make Michigan consistently relevant in presidential contests, in the same way as Ohio and Florida. For that matter, every voter in every state would be relevant. Currently, voters in a state such as California, that reliably votes for the Democrat, or Oklahoma, that votes for the Republican, there's not much point in casting a presidential ballot.

That suppresses turnout and allows candidates to concentrate on the swing states that are considered up for grabs. Sometimes Michigan is included in that mix, sometimes not.

A study by FairVote found that in the 2004 presidential election, three-quarters of the campaigning during peak season occurred in just five states, and 18 states received no candidate visits or spending at all. 

The legislation would force candidates to mine votes nationwide. 

The Electoral College would not go away, and states would continue to set the rules and administer elections. Since it doesn't change the Constitution, states can opt out at any time and go back to the old system if they choose.

And it doesn't mean that either Donald Trump or George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote in 2000 to Al Gore, would not have become president, since Republican vote turnout in Democratic states likely would have risen.

Michigan's House passed the measure in 2008, but it never went to a vote in the Senate.

Both chambers should pass it this time and help assure that whoever becomes president does so with the support of the majority of voters.