National popular vote gains momentum, remains political long-shot

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Colorado is the latest state to sign onto a plan to change how the country picks its president.

Here’s how it would work:
- Currently each state backs the presidential candidate with the most votes in their state.
- But, the 12 states signed onto this agreement and D.C. are ready to support the candidate with the most votes nationwide.
- They’ll do so if and when the group is big enough to ensure that candidate wins.

The goal is to make sure every vote counts, but not everyone thinks the plan adds up to a better system.

Before candidates run for office, the Republican and Democratic parties can bank on the states that will be in their corners. Voters in Florida and five midwestern swing states essentially decided the last two elections.

“Ultimately in a democracy you want the people with the votes to carry the day,” said Sam Berger with the left-leaning Center for American Progress, “that’s not what happens.”

Berger sees Colorado’s entrance into the National Popular vote movement as a key milestone. It’s the first state that’s not a democratic stronghold to join the group. Part red-state, part blue-state, it’s often referred to as politically purple.

Changing how this country picks its president would eventually require some Republican states to sign onto the agreement as well. “It’s really only crass politics that stands in the way of it happening today,” Berger argued.

If Republican states ever do decide get behind the idea, the party could end up paying a steep political price in future elections. Democrats, not Republicans, would have won the White House in 2000 and 2016 if the popular vote had been used to determine the winner.

“Our system is not purely democratic,” said Jarret Stepman, a columnist with the conservative Heritage Foundation, “and I don’t think that’s necessarily been a bad thing.”

Stepman said the founders wanted a system that forced candidates to serve diverse interests and regions. He argues the electoral college helps prevent fraud, and worries campaigns will skip rural battleground areas in favor of big cities if it is functionally scrapped. “I think it’s really served this country – over the long term – very well,” said Stepman before paraphrasing Alexander Hamilton, “despite it not being perfect, I do think it’s excellent.”

The national popular vote agreement has two-thirds of the state support it needs to change how a president is elected, but it’s a long way from gaining the momentum it needs to change the electoral map. Advocates still see it as an easier road than changing the system through a constitutional amendment. That would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, and three quarters of states to sign off.

If and when the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact ever takes effect, it’s likely to get challenged in court.

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