Trump Alters Electoral College Debate in States

By: - April 19, 2019 12:00 am

Voters cast their ballot in Denver. Colorado in March became the 14th state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. David Zalubowski/The Associated Press

For years, polls show, Republicans across the country championed a national popular vote to elect presidents, instead of the state-by-state tally of the Electoral College.

But something changed: Donald Trump got elected president.

Trump won the Electoral College handily in 2016 but lost the popular vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots. As of last year, only 32% of GOP voters supported a national popular vote, down from 54% in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of Democrats, meanwhile, supported a national popular vote. (The Pew Charitable Trusts funds both the Pew Research Center and Stateline.)

The Republican shift has altered the trajectory of state legislative efforts to change the federal system. State legislatures have the constitutional right to choose the method by which electoral votes are distributed, and more than a dozen support a way to work around the Electoral College in presidential contests.

Those behind the push for change want states to sign on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement in which states would assign their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes across the entire country.

So far, with strong support from Democratic lawmakers and governors, 14 states and the District of Columbia have joined the compact, accounting for 181 electoral votes. The compact would go into effect once member states account for the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president. To reach that goal, the compact is going to need Republican support.

Republican opinion surrounding the Electoral College, however, followed a similar path to Trump’s own opinion. In 2012, he tweeted, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”

Shortly after his victory in 2016, he changed his tune, tweeting, “The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play.”

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.