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Virginia House Votes to Join Movement to Elect President on Popular Vote

Man voting
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

*VPM Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story.

A growing number of states are joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which calls for presidential elections to be based on the popular vote. The Virginia House of Delegates voted Tuesday to sign onto the compact.

Rather than abolishing the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment, the states in the NPVIC would grant all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in a national presidential election.

The Virginia House bill was proposed by Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria). He says this approach is more likely to succeed than a constitutional amendment, which would require a two-third vote in the House and Senate and referendums in three-fourths of the states.

“Article 2, Section 1 [of the Constitution] says that the states can allocate their electoral votes however they wish based on whatever state legislatures want,” Levine said. “So what we’re doing is clearly constitutional. It’s just a more effective way to make it happen.”

The bill now moves to the floor of the Senate for a vote. If passed into law, the bill would go into effect only once the compact has enough states to amass the 270 electoral vote majority needed to win a presidential election.

The compact currently has 194 electoral votes. That number would be raised to 207 if Virginia joins. Rich Meagher, associate professor at Randolph-Macon College, says Virginia’s inclusion in the compact could “ramp up the pressure” for other states.

“Do they decide to hop on to it or not? And even if they do, there'll be pressure on the states that have already agreed to the compact to rethink their support for it over the next couple of years.”

Under the current electoral system, a candidate wins the presidency once they reach a 270 vote threshold in the Electoral College, rather than by winning the majority of the popular vote nationwide.

Proponents of the Electoral College say it gives rural voters a more even playing field, but critics say it dilutes the political influence of those who live in densely-populated areas, like cities, where Maegher says more Democrats tend to live.

“A lot of conservatives -- rural interests -- look at the Electoral College as one of the last bulwarks against a kind of demographic sweep that the Democrats may be able to pull across the country where they would have perpetual control of national political institutions,” Maegher said.

In a statement, Jack Wilson, the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said joining the compact would “put big states like New York and California in charge of who gets Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.” 

"The only reason Democrats patroned this legislation is the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election… If Clinton had won, this bill would not have been introduced," Wilson said. In 2016, President Donald Trump won a majority of votes in the Electoral College despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote.

Levine says moving away from the Electoral College is “about giving everyone a fair and equal vote.” 

“I think all of us are equal citizens and I don’t think the people of Wyoming, D.C., Vermont or Delaware are four times smarter than Virginians. They should not get four times the vote,” Levine said.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.