Democratic Nevada Governor Halts National Popular Vote Momentum

June 3, 2019 Updated: June 3, 2019

After a string of state-level victories, the forward momentum of a proposal to guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote in future presidential elections becomes president of the United States may have been halted after Nevada unexpectedly said no to the proposal.

On May 30, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have given the state’s six Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

“After thoughtful deliberation, I have decided to veto Assembly Bill 186,” Sisolak said in a press release.

“Once effective, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.”

The legislation had been approved by the Silver State’s Assembly 23–17 on April 16 and by the Senate 12–8 on May 21.

The defeat comes as support for the radical electoral overhaul has been declining. Although public backing for the idea appears to have reached a high-water mark after Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election while losing the national popular vote, a shrinking plurality of Americans now supports changing how the president is elected.

A poll unveiled by Rasmussen Reports on May 28 shows that “most Americans still understand the reason the Founding Fathers established the Electoral College and are increasingly opposed to efforts to get rid of it.”

The national telephone and online survey revealed 46 percent of likely voters favor doing away with the traditional Electoral College system designed by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. But 43 percent are now opposed to changing the system, with 11 percent undecided.

Support for eliminating the current system is unchanged from October 2018, but down from a high of 56 percent in November 2012 polling. Opposition has risen at a steady pace from 25 percent when Rasmussen first asked this question nearly seven years ago.

The partisan breakdown is worth noting. “Sixty-three percent of Democrats favor eliminating the Electoral College, while just as many Republicans (63 percent) are opposed. Voters not affiliated with either major party are almost evenly divided,” according to Rasmussen.

Democrats’ opposition to the Electoral College may be connected to their inability to comprehend the purpose of the current system. The poll discovered that Democrats were “the least likely to choose the correct answer for what best describes the function of the Electoral College.”

Republican officeholders generally favor the current system, which incorporates the power-sharing arrangement between higher-population states and lower-population states that’s at the heart of federalism.

The system, they reason, prevents smaller states from being dominated by larger states and ensures that whoever wins the presidency enjoys a measure of broad-based support across the country. It does, however, occasionally lead to a president being elected who didn’t win the national popular vote.

Democrats have long sought to kneecap the Electoral College, which prevents the United States from political domination at the hands of major population centers, which are controlled by Democrats in so-called blue states.

Instead of amending the Constitution—a very difficult thing to do—a group called National Popular Vote (NPV) wants the states to ignore their own voters and enter into an interstate compact that would hand the presidency to whomever gets the greatest number of popular votes nationally. Rather than abolishing the Electoral College, the plan would require presidential electors in the states and the District of Columbia to vote for the candidate who gets the most popular votes, which some critics say is, in itself, unconstitutional.

Constitutional amendments need two-thirds approval of each chamber of Congress, and then ratification by three-quarters of the states. Small states aren’t likely to go along with a proposal like NPV’s that would permanently water down their voting power in presidential elections.

The current system came out of the Constitutional Convention that met in 1787 in Philadelphia, and ousted the earlier constitution known as the Articles of Confederation.

The NPV group claims it now has 70 percent of the support it needs for the interstate compact to take effect.

The 70-percent mark was reached April 3, when New Mexico became the 15th jurisdiction in the nation to enact enabling legislation, committing its presidential electors to vote for the candidate who receives the greatest number of popular votes nationally. According to a tally maintained by NPV, enabling legislation has been adopted in 14 states—including New Mexico—plus the District of Columbia, representing a total of 189 electoral votes.

Those states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Not one is a red state.

The plan, NPV claims, would become effective when enacted by several more states with 81 more electoral votes, taking the total to the magic number of 270 out of 538, the absolute majority required to win the presidency in the Electoral College.