SALEM — House lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday that would make Oregon award its Electoral College votes only to presidential candidates who win the national popular vote.
Wednesday’s vote marks the first time that such legislation, already passed by 11 other states, may have a shot at becoming law in Oregon.
The Oregon House has passed similar bills before, but they’ve all been killed in the Senate. Not this time, though: Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, an obstacle to national popular vote bills in the past, said last week that he’s open to letting the bill pass his chamber.
If passed in the Senate and signed by Gov. Kate Brown, House Bill 2927 would add Oregon to the 11 states and Washington D.C. — including Washington and California — that have already joined the national popular vote compact. The compact won’t take effect until states with a collective 270 Electoral College votes sign on; it stands at 165 electoral votes now.
Oregon’s bill passed the Democrat-controlled House along partisan lines this year, 34-23.
The legislation comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s victory in November, where he won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote contest to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes. Two of the last five presidents won the presidency despite losing the popular vote: Trump and George W. Bush — both Republicans.
Bill carrier Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, said Wednesday that the Electoral College is “flawed and outdated” because a candidate can become president without winning support from a majority of Americans.
“The Electoral College does not fit the ‘We the people’ and ‘One person, one vote’ style of government,” Keny-Guyer said in a speech from the House floor.
Because it’s assumed deep-blue Oregon will always vote Democratic, the state is “relegated to being a spectator state” during presidential campaigns, she said.
Keny-Guyer and other House Democrats said that could have an effect on policy. If it were possible for Oregon to be a swing state, it might get more attention — and beneficial handouts — from the federal government, they said.
House Republicans spoke against the bill, saying it is unwise to change how the nation selects the president. If Democrats want to make Oregon more competitive nationally, officials should hold the presidential primary election earlier in campaign season, Republicans said.
In opposing the bill, Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, argued against “pure democracy” where the “tyranny of the majority” would rule. Few Americans understand the Electoral College, he said, and what he sees as the danger in nixing it.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where it isn’t dead on arrival, but may face amendments. Courtney, the Senate president, said that although he opposes national popular vote legislation, he is open to amending the bill and sending the question directly to voters.
“If you believe in the popular vote,” he said, “then let the popular vote decide the issue.”
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