If politics often moves at the pace of a hare, the tortoise of political reform efforts is undoubtedly the National Popular Vote initiative, an attempt to neutralize the Electoral College by an interstate compact that would commit states to instruct their electors to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote. The initiative was in the news this week when it added Colorado to the 11 states (plus the District of Columbia) that had previously signed on:
Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) will sign a bill into law that opts Colorado out of the Electoral College, the governor’s office tells Next with Kyle Clark.
The Democrat-controlled legislature formally approved the measure last week. Under the bill, Colorado’s nine electoral college votes would go to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote, rather than the candidate who wins this state….
A law in Colorado would give the nationwide initiative 181 electoral votes. The National Popular Vote compact will not take effect unless 270 electoral votes are guaranteed, meaning more states need to sign on for this to change a presidential election.
Colorado was an obvious candidate for the NPV bandwagon because Democrats gained a governing trifecta there last November. If you wonder why Democrats would be more likely to support a popular vote system, consider the recent alternative history of a country with presidents Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. Another state that “flipped” to total Democratic control last year was Maine. So naturally, there’s an effort there as well to join the NPV compact. This aroused the hostile attention of Maine’s unfortunate gift to right-wing politics, former two-term governor Paul LePage, as Ronn Blitzer reports:
LePage discussed this on WVOM radio station’s “George Hale Ric Tyler Show” on Tuesday. It started off normally enough, with LePage defending the electoral college for allowing states like his to remain relevant in presidential politics …
Then things started to take a turn for the extreme.
“Why don’t we just adopt the constitution of Venezuela and be done with it?” LePage said. “Let’s have a dictator because that’s really what you’re gonna boil down to.”
What would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do, white people will not have anything to say. It’s only going to be the minorities who would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida,” he added.
Left-of-center folk have often argued that institutions like the Electoral College, the Senate (especially with the filibuster), and legislative gerrymandering make it possible for a relatively small minority of the population to exert disproportionate power over the country, particularly when all it needs to do is to obstruct change. But conservatives don’t often admit they oppose democracy, much less that they do so on behalf of the racial group that happens to dominate their electorate base. Certainly LePage’s anti-democratic leanings are well-established after he refused to implement a voter-approved Medicaid expansion for over a year.
Arguably LePage is a has-been; he left office at the end of last year thanks to term limits. But he’s threatening to attempt a comeback against his Democratic successor, Janet Mills, in 2022. And his racialized thundering against the popular vote initiative could help mobilize Republicans against it, though presumably they’ll downplay the white power angle.
The odds of the NPV reaching its goals any time soon are low given the hostility of most Republicans everywhere, who do, after all, still control at least one legislative chamber and/or the governor’s office in 36 states. But LePage has exposed the least reputable argument for keeping things the way they are and thwarting democracy in future as well as past presidential elections.