SALEM — Among the proposed laws before the Oregon Legislature this session, Rep. Dan Rayfield says he has gotten the most feedback from constituents on a proposal to have Oregon join a compact of states awarding their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
The Corvallis Democrat admits interest in the measure has grown since Donald Trump received the Electoral College votes required by the Constitution to win the presidency while losing the popular vote in November.
“I certainly think that the national context has given momentum to the movement,” Rayfield said Tuesday.
But, he said, the effort has been in the works long before Trump’s victory.
Still, House members got a sense of the high local interest in the Electoral College Tuesday as the Rules Committee took testimony on the revived proposal.
To win the presidency, a candidate must win a majority of the 538 electoral votes.
Each state has one elector for each of its U.S. senators and representatives, and can determine the system for apportioning those votes.
In line with the state’s current rules, all of Oregon’s seven electors were awarded to Hillary Clinton, the winner of the statewide popular vote.
Under the proposed legislation, once states representing a majority of electoral votes join the compact, Oregon’s electors would be awarded to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.
The compact has been described as a “workaround” for the Constitution’s Electoral College system.
Proponents say the current system of states awarding electoral votes based on their state’s results does not honor the principle of “one person, one vote,” and distorts both how candidates campaign and presidents govern by shifting the focus to swing states.
Opponents, though, say the Constitution calls for the Electoral College in order to prevent “tyranny of the majority” and to give small states a voice in presidential elections.
Discourse about the so-called “urban-rural divide,” an issue in the wake of Trump’s strong support in on-urban areas, plays into the debate as well.
Joseph Rice, chair of the Second Congressional District for the Oregon GOP and a member of its Executive Committee, claimed the proposal would rob rural voters of their say in national elections.
“For hundreds of years the Electoral College has made the voice of rural America count,” Rice wrote in a letter to the House Rules Committee. “Pushing forward with (the proposal) silences the voices of (tens) of millions of Americans, giving urban America and our densely populated cities the overwhelming voice in our national elections.”
But Paul Finkelman, a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, has argued that the Electoral College had its roots not in state’s rights or fear of tyrants riding a wave of populist sentiment into office, but in an attempt to appease proslavery states.
By allowing slave-owning states to factor slaves into their population as “three-fifths” of a person — and in denying slaves suffrage — those states could artificially inflate their populations to garner more representation in the Electoral College to outweigh their smaller voting-eligible populations, Finkelman has argued.
House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, took issue with the popular vote proposal at Tuesday’s hearing, arguing that under the same premise, the country should do away with the U.S. Senate.
“I wonder if outcomes have dictated philosophy,” McLane said, suggesting that the recent election had stirred up Democratic interest in the cause.
Rayfield, one of three major sponsors, said he would support the national popular vote measure, even if American voters selected a Republican president.
“When the majority of the electors control who our president is, then the policies coming out of the most important office we have are going to match what the majority of the electors wanted,” Rayfield said. “And that’s why it doesn’t matter who wins the popular vote. I may be in the minority, but our democracy is founded on the majority principle.”
Similar proposals were passed by the Oregon House in 2009, 2013 and 2015, but stalled in the Oregon Senate all three times, according to National Popular Vote, an organization advocating for the change.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said he’ll wait to see what happens in committee if it moves to the Senate.
“Personally, I believe Oregon’s electoral votes should be cast for the candidate chosen by Oregon voters,” Courtney said in a statement. “Under the national popular vote proposal, that would not be guaranteed.”
The measure has not yet been scheduled for a vote.