Oregon Can Help Reform the Electoral College Right Now. No, really!

Kelley Meck of Portland, Oregon. Kelley is a campaign professional turned law student.

2017 should be the year that Oregon joins the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (the NPV Compact for short). It would be a principled step toward a better democracy for America–and the timing has never been better. Many Oregonians are outraged that for the second time in just five elections, the candidate America voted for won’t become president. Oregon can respond to that outrage by adding its voice to the eleven other states that have already joined the interstate compact to effectively end the electoral college.

The core idea behind NPV Compact is pretty simple: Per Article II of the Constitution, each state’s legislature chooses how to assign the state’s electoral college votes. Each NPV Compact state passes a law pledging its electoral votes not to the candidate who wins the state, but to the candidate that wins the national popular vote. The compact is written so it will only take effect once states making up a majority of the electoral college make the same commitment. In other words, as states join the compact, momentum builds, but nothing actually changes in any state until the electoral votes of the states in the compact adds up to 270 or more. After that, all the states in the compact switch to awarding their states to the popular vote winner, so whoever wins the national popular vote automatically wins enough electoral college votes to win the election. Just like that, we’re saying sayonara electoral college, and sayonara to future didn’t-win-the-popular-vote presidencies like George W. Bush and Trump.

If any state is long overdue to sign on to the NPV Compact, it’s Oregon. The NPV Compact polls well here, and it has been endorsed by a former Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court and by Governor Kate Brown. The Oregon House of Representatives has voted to add Oregon to the NPV Compact three different times; in 2009, 2013, and just two years ago in 2015. Plus, of the incoming senators to the 2017 Oregon state senate, fully 13 signed on to co-sponsor a bill to join the NPVIC in 2015 – and two senators-elect voted for it in the house, so there are 15 votes for the bill in the Oregon Senate. Momentum is clearly building, and it’s hard to imagine a better year than this one, so let’s get this done. The only remaining hold-up appears to be in the state senate, where Senate President Peter Courtney could be the 16th vote, but apparently isn’t sold. Call his office 503-986-1600 and let him know what you’ll think if he doesn’t put the NPV Compact up to an up-or-down vote this year, and vote for it.

Making the electoral college go the way of the dinosaur is a pretty exciting idea. Most Americans recognize that the electoral college is kind of unfair… to some states… some of the time. But the electoral college is actually far worse than just occasionally kinda-sorta unfair. The electoral college fails the basic idea of one person, one vote—massively.

First, the electoral college gives some low-population states more than three times the number of electors per voter as high-population states. But it’s actually worse than that. All but two states award their electoral votes winner-take-all, which creates swing-state distortion: Voters in a few “purple” swing states are vastly, vastly more influential to the final outcome than voters in more stable red or blue states. Think about it: if persuading a voter in Oregon mattered to candidates even 1/5th as much as persuading a voter in Florida, then you’d think candidates Trump and Clinton would have held at least some public campaign events in Oregon. But in fact, Florida got more than seventy post-convention campaign stops and Oregon, along with 23 other states, got zero. The electoral college is so undemocratic it is just plain depressing. It’s no wonder voter turnout in safe states was only 56.3%, whereas in swing states it was 65.3%.

Or think about it from the perspective of President-elect Trump. If 2020 is anything like most presidential elections, President-elect Trump’s re-election prospects will probably depend on ten to twelve purple states. He won’t really have to care about the votes of voters in more than half the country, probably including Oregon. I think I probably speak for most Oregonians, and most Americans, when I say that I would prefer if the President—no matter his party—had to care about every voter at least close to equally.

You may ask, if the electoral college is so bad, why did our founding fathers go with it in the first place? The answer reveals the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the electoral college. The electoral college was included in the Constitution as a concession to southern states’ desire to limit voting rights to a narrow set of land-owning white men. The point was to make the raw number of votes in a state irrelevant to a state’s influence on the presidential election. This way, Southern states (or any states) can restrict their own citizens’ (and originally, slaves’!) voting rights as much as they want, and not lose relative influence in presidential elections. (Read more about this here, or see James Madison’s record of the Constitutional Convention here.) In other words, the electoral college is about as orthogonal to democratic principles as the agreement to count slaves as 3/5 of a person.

So far states with 165 electoral votes have already joined the NPV Compact; only another 105 electoral college votes are needed to push this thing over the top.

So, if you don’t like the electoral college, call Senator Courtney’s office at 503-986-1600, and tell him to support the NPV Compact and bring it to a vote. Or you can write him at [email protected].

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