North Carolina has a chance to help make history, said sponsors of a bill to effectively abolish the Electoral College at a Wednesday press conference.
Senate Bill 104 would have North Carolina join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — an agreement among U.S. states to award all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote.
“We have a very real electoral crisis in the United StatesAmerica,” said State Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake), a primary sponsor of the bill. “Five of our 45 presidents — including two of the last three presidents — were placed in office by the Electoral College, not by the majority of Americans.”
The bill, like others passed around the country in what has become a national movement, would go into effect when enough states have passed bills that the compact to control a majority of the nation’s electoral votes — 270 out of 538.
The movement is nearly at that tipping point.
As of this month, bills have been passed by fifteen states and the District of Columbia. Together, their electoral votes add up to 196 electoral votes. Bills are being debated in another half-dozen states.
On Wednesday a similar bill passed the Maine State House and is headed to the Senate for a final enactment vote and then on to Gov. Janet Mills. A bill has passed the House and Senate in Oregon as well and is headed to Gov. Kate Brown. With North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, Nickel said, the agreement is almost within striking distance of its goal.
Because Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump were the last two presidents to be elected without winning the popular votes, these bills have not been popular with the GOP.
Some Democrats aren’t wild about the idea, either. In Nevada a bill was passed but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who argued the role of less populated states like Nevada would be diminished if the popular vote determined presidential elections.
But it shouldn’t be a partisan issue, Nickel said.
“Some will say this is a Democratic bill,” Nickel said. “It is not. In 2004, John Kerry was just 60,000 votes away in Ohio from winning the electoral college and losing the popular vote to George W. Bush. No matter what side you are on, this is just plain wrong.”
Nickel worked for Al Gore when he lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote. More recently, he said, he had trouble explaining to hi 4-year-old daughter how Hillary Clinton could have won the popular vote but lost the presidency in 2016.
Bob Phillips, executive director of non-partisan group Common Cause NC, was on hand at Wednesday’s press conference to emphasize the value to voters.
“The electoral college really has no value for our Democracy,” Phillips said. “It’s confusing in that the candidate who wins the most votes doesn’t always win the presidency. It’s outdated in that candidates campaign to a handful of battleground states and it’s detrimental in that it dilutes the strength of individual voters – one person, one vote. It’s beyond time to get rid of this outmoded, outdated and yes, outrageous system.”
Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg), another primary sponsor of the bill, said establishing the primacy of the national popular vote is about fundamental fairness — and about the average voter never feeling that their vote doesn’t count.
“The President is the only national figure for whom every American citizen votes,” Waddell said.
“Yet in truth Americans do not choose the president,” she said. “Electors representing the states do.”
With more Americans than ever voting and more ways for them to be informed than ever, Waddell said the electoral college is paternalistic and archaic.
“We cannot allow this continue to happen,” Waddell said. “It is undemocratic and just plain senseless to continue to give the presidency to someone most Americans did not vote for.”
With Republicans still holding a majority in the General Assembly, the bill is a long-shot this legislative session.
But Nickel and Waddell said they will continue to lobby their GOP colleagues and introduce bills in future sessions, if needed.
“The toughest thing I deal with is when someone says ‘My vote doesn’t matter,'” said Nickel. “That’s what this vote is about. It’s about saying, ‘Your vote matters.'”