Should we elect the president by popular vote?

February 17, 2019

This may not be the biggest issue before the current session of the New Mexico Legislature, but it’s one that should particularly irk New Mexico’s citizens (“National popular vote bill clears first hurdle in House,” Jan. 24).

House Bill 55, called the “Agreement to Elect President by Popular Vote,” is part of a national agenda to snooker state legislators into disenfranchising the will of their own state’s voters. The bill could force the state’s electors, in the Electoral College process, to support a presidential and vice presidential candidate that New Mexico voters may have rejected.

A national group is seeking to get such bills passed in New Mexico and other states, to amass a total 270 electors (or more), constituting a majority of the Electoral College vote. These states would consent to a deal: Each would commit all its presidential electors to vote in agreement with the majority outcome of the national popular vote for president and vice president.

Fifteen states or so could be all it would take to have enough electors to dictate an election outcome reflecting the national popular vote and always putting into office the candidates that the national popular vote tallied to be in the majority (or plurality).

The Electoral College process would be rendered meaningless. And since the votes of each participant state’s electors are mandated to match the national vote outcome, it could be that a state’s electors are forced to vote in opposition to the determination of their own state’s voters.

While its supporters call this process a compact among agreeing states, it seems more of a scheme to have a limited number of states cause the majority of states to have no say in a presidential election. It also seems like a scheme to bypass the intent of the U.S. Constitution’s electoral process provisions.

Now, think about this scenario: A big-city mayor, who has little interest in open space, national parks or agriculture, runs for president. That candidate’s platform relies on slashing funding for parks, agriculture and open-space use, management or acquisition, with the intent of sending all the new money to the big cities for new programs and projects to try to solve their crime issues, further subsidize public transportation and fix myriad other urban problems.

That candidate also believes the defense and defense research budgets are too high, and wants to cut spending at the Sandia and Los Alamos labs, and to shut down two of the three Air Force bases in New Mexico, to favor urban redevelopment and improvements.

Given a reasonable challenger, it’s likely New Mexico would not vote a majority for that candidate. But if that candidate, on the support of 10 or 15 big cities, won the national popular vote, then New Mexico’s electors (if the state joined this compact) would be required to vote for this candidate, against the will of New Mexico’s voters.

So how would that play out around the state?

This compact idea seems to gut the even small chance that the more rural, less-populated or heavily agricultural states can have a bit of influence in the national election outcome. Why would New Mexico agree to a program that gives away that opportunity? As of Feb. 11, the bill had moved from the House and was before the Senate’s Judiciary and Rules committees.

An honest and straightforward way to make the national popular vote prevail is to eliminate the electoral process. But that requires constitutional amendments. The method suggested by HB 55 (and similar bills in other states) is much easier for the sponsoring organization, if it can snooker state legislators into supporting it. Hopefully, our legislators won’t let themselves get snookered.

Berl Brechner has been a journalist and broadcasting executive, and lives in Santa Fe.