After seven failed attempts in 12 years, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact suddenly caught fire this year in Oregon, finally winning passage in the Democrat-controlled state Senate.
That worried Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson. She voted against Senate Bill 870, arguing that the proposal, which would add Oregon to a national effort to upend the Electoral College, should be placed on the ballot.
Its sudden burst of popularity, she said, can be attributed to one man: President Trump.
“There are two words not mentioned in SB 870: Donald Trump,” said Ms. Johnson in her Tuesday floor speech. “In my opinion, he’s the reason the National Popular Vote has caught on so aggressively of late. If we’re going to end a historic institution, let it be prompted by something loftier than dislike for one particular president. Let regular voters make that decision, not the legislature.”
Her reasoning may have carried the day in prior sessions, but not this year. Still furious about Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory despite his loss of the popular vote, Democrats have sought to prevent it from ever happening again by embracing the effort to upend the Electoral College.
Democratic governors in three states — Colorado, Delaware and New Mexico — have signed bills this year to join the compact, meaning that they agree to cast their Electoral College votes for the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote, instead of the candidate supported by state voters.
The Oregon bill is expected to sail through the state House on its way to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who also supports the concept. Meanwhile, a Nevada measure is pending on the Assembly floor after winning approval last month in committee.
Once viewed as a quixotic quest, the National Popular Vote now has the support of 15 states with a combined 189 electoral votes, bringing the campaign closer to the 270 electoral votes required for the agreement to take effect.
“2019 is indeed a great year for proponents of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact,” said NPV spokesman Pat Rosentiel. “Legislative victories have brought us significantly closer to ensuring every voter, in every state, is politically relevant in every presidential election.”
Credit for this year’s success goes to the “Trump bump,” as well as the November blue wave that saw Democrats pull off the trifecta — control of the governor’s office as well as both state legislative chambers — in an additional six states, according to Ballotpedia.
Those pickups included Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, where Republicans had helped block National Popular Vote bills from passage in the past, warning about the consequences of disrupting a unique election system created by the Founding Fathers.
Republicans also have a political dog in the fight: In the last 20 years, two presidential candidates — Mr. Trump in 2016 and President George W. Bush in 2000 — captured the White House despite losing the popular vote. Both were Republican.
Critics of all political stripes worry that the National Popular Vote will hand control over presidential races to major population centers like Los Angeles and New York City, diluting further the voice of rural America and smaller states.
Proponents of the National Popular Vote argue that the system will shift focus from the half-dozen swing states that now decide presidential elections, but Oregon Republicans argued that shifting the focus to California and New York still doesn’t help their state.
“They won’t come to Oregon,” said Republican state Sen. Alan Olsen. “National Popular Vote is trying to say that that will make them come and talk to us, but it won’t happen.”
He said that it would instead “make all the big cities the players, and the rest of country, the rest of middle America will not playing the game … Explain to them why their vote won’t count because we decided to get into this cabal.”
Founded by computer scientist John Koza, co-creator of the lottery “scratch card,” the compact has long billed itself as nonpartisan, noting that it has received some Republican legislative support.
That said, the issue has increasingly divided along party lines. No red state has voted in favor of the National Popular Vote, and the repeal campaign in Colorado is being led by local GOP officials.
No GOP legislators in Colorado or New Mexico backed the bill, while the Oregon measure saw two Republicans and two Democrats cross party lines. The bill was approved 17-12.
One of the Democrats who voted against it was Ms. Johnson. “I’ve listened very carefully to the National Popular Vote people. They talk about one man one vote,” she said. “Yet they don’t want a vote by Oregonians taken on this significant issue.”
Oregon state Sen. Michael Dembrow, who sponsored the measure, said the electoral college is increasingly viewed as “a relic of an earlier time,” while the National Popular Vote would make every vote count.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m a Democrat or Republican, in a blue state or a red state, I have as much of a chance of influencing the election as someone in any state in the country,” Mr. Dembrow said. “This is what one person one vote is all about, colleagues. It’s the fruition of what it means to be an American.”