Delaware is moving to ensure you can’t win a presidential election without winning the popular vote.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already approved the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. States that join the agreement would assign their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Most states now send their Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote within that state.
“For too long, our votes for the highest office in the land have only mattered if we live in one of a few battleground states,” said state Sen. Bryan Townsend. The Newark Democrat is the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Senate. “This bill helps ensure that every vote — in every state — will matter.”
He points to recent elections as evidence of the need for this change. In 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more votes than George W. Bush. But Bush won the election because he got 271 Electoral College votes to Gore’s 266. Similarly in 2016, President Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a margin of more than 2.8 million votes.
In Delaware, Clinton won by 50,500 votes and earned the state’s three electoral votes. Trump carried Pennsylvania by a smaller margin of 44,300 votes. Despite the smaller margin of victory, Trump earned 20 electoral votes on his way to the White House.
The move toward a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is not a “sour grapes” reaction by Democrats to the Clinton and Gore losses, Townsend said. He points to the 2004 election where Democrat John Kerry nearly won the Electoral College vote despite losing the popular vote by more than 3 million. Kerry would have won if he had captured 60,000 more votes in Ohio.
“This isn’t some kind of partisan payback,” Townsend said. “Whichever side of the political debate you’re on, I would say that all instances [of a president being elected without winning the popular vote] are not what we should be aiming for.”
Increasing support from both parties
The Delaware legislation has bipartisan support, including Republican co-sponsor state Rep. Jeff Spiegelman. “This compact fits the spirit of the original intent of our Founding Fathers who believed that all the people of all the states, not the select people of a select number of states, should determine the outcome of our most sacred national elections,” Spiegelman said.
The state House approved the compact in 2009 and 2011, but the bills never saw action in the state Senate. This year’s version is co-sponsored by 39 out of 62 members of the General Assembly, including seven Republicans.
Townsend said switching to the popular vote could give Delaware and other small states a bigger voice on the national stage. Delaware, he said, is typically ignored when it comes to presidential campaigns.
“The presidential election focuses on just a small number of states, and the rest of the states are already decided as red or blue,” he said. “Then there’s not going to be much weight and attention and respect in the governance process either, and that’s a problem.
“It can translate to being ignored when there’s a request from both sides of the aisle here in Delaware not to do offshore drilling on the federal level.”
The compact would only take effect if enough states sign on to form a majority of Electoral College votes. Currently, the coalition accounts for 172 electors. That’s 98 short of the 270 needed to take effect.
States that have signed onto the compact include New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Rhode Island, New York and Connecticut. Colorado’s governor is expected to sign legislation making it the 12th state to join the compact.