Update: On April 9, the Oregon Senate voted to join the National Popular Vote Compact. If approved by the Oregon House of Representatives and signed by Governor Kate Brown, it effectively becomes law.
In the fray of today’s short news-cycles, with polarizing political figures in Washington, epic catastrophes at home and abroad, implosions of longtime allies, I call the attention of Oregonians to less flashy, but critically important political news breaking in Salem: the legislature’s movement to secure Oregon’s participation in the National Popular Vote Compact.
The brainchild of a group of wonky technocrats, the National Popular Vote Compact is a smart device that has been endorsed by a range of unlikely allies from both parties and joined now by 14 states and the District of Columbia. It is designed to fix a myriad of problems with our current presidential election system — a system which baffles the world, and is already creating significant problems for democracy at home. It uses the power granted by the U.S. Constitution to state legislatures to determine how each state’s electoral college votes will be awarded. State legislatures have always been the deciders on this, most recently exemplified by the decision of the legislatures of Maine and Nebraska to award their electors on the basis of congressional district.
National Popular Vote (NPV) is a compact among states, not a top-down federal fix. It remedies the current system where the national election is decided by a small group of voters in swing states, relegating the rest of the country — including Oregon now — to virtual irrelevance. Instead, once triggered by the participation of member states carrying the majority of electoral college votes (currently 270), compact members agree to award all their votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This ensures that no states can be taken for granted, and importantly, that every vote cast in a presidential election carries equal weight. This is far from our current system, which significantly fortifies the voices of voters in low-population states and dilutes those of voters in higher population states by a factor of 4 to 1. (The voting power of a Wyoming resident in comparison to a resident of New York.)
NPV has been around for over a decade, and is not a response to the current moment. It has been endorsed by a number of nonpartisan “good government” groups — including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. Our neighbors to the north and south, Washington and California, joined a number of years ago, and new members in the past year include Colorado and Connecticut. Currently the compact is two-thirds constituted and momentum is building. The governors of the states of New Mexico and Delaware signed within the past two weeks. A Nevada assembly committee has just passed the measure out of committee to the floor. The state senate in Michigan is engaging the issue.
The Oregon house has passed NPV four times in the past and is expected to do so again. On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee passed the measure out of committee to be taken up on the floor of the senate shortly. Governor Brown has indicated that she will sign.
Less glamorous than many national initiatives, with its kinks worked out by long discussion and general agreement on its goals, NPV is a tremendous step forward. By using powers granted in the constitution, it presents a pragmatic solution to a compounding national problem. I urge Oregonians to contact their state representatives, and to voice support. And those from states who are not yet members: NPV now needs states with 81 more electoral college votes to join. Consider how you can help to make that happen!
DR. JANE HUNTER
Jane Hunter is a Professor of History and previously served as Associate Dean and interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.