Minnesota lawmakers bring national popular vote one step closer to reality
A voter takes an ‘I Voted’ sticker at the Brackett Recreation Center in Minneapolis on Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
One provision tucked away in the omnibus election bill passed by the House and Senate would dramatically alter the way presidential elections are conducted in the U.S. if enough other states sign on.
The provision, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, would award all of the state’s presidential electors to the candidate winning a majority of the national popular vote. It doesn’t take effect until states representing at least 270 electoral votes – an electoral college majority – sign on.
With the addition of Minnesota, backers of the plan are just 65 electoral votes away from making it a reality. Fifteen other states plus D.C. have already joined the compact, an effort which began in earnest in the early 2000s.
“This has truly been a collaborative effort among Republicans, Democrats, and independents who have diligently worked towards advancing the very simple idea that the candidate who wins the most votes in all 50 states should be elected president,” said John Koza, chair of National Popular Vote, in a press release. “The Legislature’s vote is an important step forward in electing the president by national popular vote and making every voter in every state politically relevant in every presidential election.”
Supporters of the effort have been trying to get it passed in Minnesota since 2007, when then-Rep. Steve Simon first introduced it in the House. Support has been concentrated on the DFL side of the aisle, but the legislation has drawn some Republican endorsements over the years.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, cosponsored the bill in several legislative sessions, including this one. In an interview, he said his enthusiasm for its final passage was dampened by the tsunami of DFL-backed bills that also passed.
“The current system is bad and this would be a better model,” he said. “Does this crack the list of the top 20 things [that happened this session]? No.”
Straight up eliminating the electoral college would require a constitutional amendment — a politically heavy lift requiring approval by a supermajority in both the U.S. House and Senate as well as approval by three-quarters of state legislatures. The compact sidesteps those requirements by simply changing how states allocate their electoral votes, which the Constitution already gives them broad leeway to do.
Close to two-thirds of Americans support electing the president by direct popular vote, at least in theory. Doing so would eliminate situations where the loser of the popular vote manages to win the electoral college, which has happened in two of the last six presidential elections. Research has shown that those “inversions” of the popular vote “significantly decrease the perceived legitimacy of winning candidates,” adding instability to the political system.
The structure of the electoral college also essentially awards more influence to voters in small, rural states — because each state receives a minimum of three electoral votes, voters in places like Wyoming, North Dakota and Vermont have roughly two to three times as much impact on the presidential outcome as those in places like Texas and California.
The winner-take-all system prevalent in most states further means that most presidential campaigning happens in just a handful of tipping-point jurisdictions like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Opponents of the proposal note that it would likely face legal challenges if it were enacted, and argue that it would reduce the overall influence of some states, like Minnesota, on election outcomes.
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