Democratic presidential hopefuls led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren have touched off a national debate by taking aim at ending the Electoral College, but state legislators are way ahead of them.
Three states — Colorado, Delaware and New Mexico — have enacted legislation this year to circumvent the Electoral College by joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Two Democrat-controlled legislatures, in Maine and Nevada, have passed such bills out of committees.
State legislators also have laid the groundwork for lowering the voting age — an idea championed last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat — with measures in 23 states to preregister voters at age 16 or 17. In California and Oregon, constitutional amendments have been introduced this year to lower the voting age.
Both ideas have picked up steam on the left in recent weeks as Democrats turn their focus to defeating President Trump in 2020. They see their goal as more attainable with an influx of teenage voters and without the Electoral College.
“Make no mistake: This is a Democratic power play,” said Colorado Republican strategist Dick Wadhams. “They are still so stunned by Donald Trump, and they are hellbent to correct what they see as a stolen election.”
Ms. Warren sparked the Electoral College pile-on at a CNN town hall March 18 by declaring, “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.”
Other Democrats chimed in. Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California said she was “open to the discussion” about folding the Electoral College, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas said the idea had “a lot of wisdom.” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another presidential candidate, tweeted that the Electoral College “has to go.”
Cue the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a proposed agreement drafted in 2006 that wouldn’t eradicate the Electoral College but would render it irrelevant by requiring state electors to cast their ballots for the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide.
The pact is slated to kick in when states accounting for 270 electoral votes join the movement. The number reached 181 on March 15 when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed the compact, making his the 12th state, along with the District of Columbia, to agree to the national popular vote.
Although the movement bills itself as bipartisan and has received Republican support in the past, the compact comprises only liberal-leaning jurisdictions: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia.
In Colorado, the measure was approved on party-line votes in both chambers of the legislature with no Republican support. No Republicans voted for the New Mexico bill either, but it is now awaiting the signature of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.
Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, is scheduled to sign Senate Bill 22 on Thursday. Only two Republican legislators joined Democrats in passing the measure to join the compact, according to LegiScan.
National popular vote senior consultant Patrick Rosenstiel, who calls himself a conservative Republican “trapped behind a blue wall in Minnesota,” said the partisan view of the Electoral College has shifted over time. At one point, Republicans complained that the Democrats had a lock on the system.
“The National Popular Vote movement has never been a partisan movement,” Mr. Rosenstiel said. “It is a bipartisan coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independents who believe that every American voter should feel politically valued in every presidential election.”
Voting age and climate change
Democrats have had more reason to complain after losing two presidential elections — in 2000 and 2016 — despite winning the popular vote. Two years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes than Mr. Trump, but the Republican candidate captured the Electoral College vote by 304-227.
The Colorado bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Emily Sirota, said the national popular vote would ensure that “every vote counts equally.”
“Coloradans shouldn’t allow a few battleground states like Florida or Ohio to be the deciders for our entire country when electing the next president of the United States,” Ms. Sirota told The Denver Channel.
Horrified Colorado Republicans argued that the compact would allow the state’s electoral votes to be dictated by large urban population centers such as Los Angeles and New York City, which would inevitably become the focus of presidential campaigns.
Colorado state Rep. Dave Williams argued that the national popular vote “tries to do an end run around the Constitution.”
“If you’re a presidential candidate, you’re going to go to those places and skip the flyover states,” Mr. Williams told KHOW-AM radio host Dan Caplis. “And Colorado’s going to lose out.”
Thirteen states have attempted to lower the voting age since 2003 without success, but California and Oregon lawmakers are trying again with proposed constitutional amendments. An Oregon Senate committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would lower the voting age to 16.
ACA-8, the California measure sponsored by Democratic Assembly member Evan Low, would change the voting age to 17. A similar 2017 bill failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for passage in the state Assembly, but Democrats increased their legislative majority in the November elections.
The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, lowered the U.S. voting age from 21 to 18.
Both the California and Oregon proposals would need to win approval first by legislative supermajorities and then voters. The bar is high, but Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan, the Oregon sponsor, said climate change has raised the stakes.
“When you look at data showing people 18 and younger, the No. 1 issue is climate change,” Ms. Fagan said in a Feb. 24 podcast. “This big planet that we have, so much of it will be uninhabitable because of climate change. And under 18, they get that.”
It may have to happen without Republicans. Oregon Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. argued that 16-year-olds are too young to own property, get married, enlist in the military or buy firearms.
“But they are old enough to vote? People are not legally considered adults in this country until they are 18 years old, and I believe they shouldn’t be able to vote until then either,” Mr. Baertschiger said in a statement. “This is nothing more than an attempt to expand the voter rolls to sway elections.”
© Copyright (c) 2019 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.