Yes, let’s elect the president by majority vote

March 20, 2019

The presidential election is more than a year away, but, boy, is the Electoral College in the spotlight.

On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for abolishing the antiquated structure at a CNN town hall meeting, saying to loud applause: “You know, come a general election, presidential candidates don’t come to places like Mississippi. They also don’t come to places like California and Massachusetts, right? Because we’re not the ‘battleground states.’ Well, my view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting. And that means get rid of the Electoral College, and everybody counts. Everybody. I think everybody ought to have to come and ask for your vote.”

Independently, states across the nation are passing National Popular Vote legislation, in which states agree to award their presidential electors to the winner of the national vote. The compact would allow the majority vote winner to become president, taking effect only when states possessing enough electoral votes — 270 out of 538 — pass the legislation.

New Mexico could join 12 states and the District of Columbia in agreeing to support the national vote winner — House Bill 55 was passed by both the House and the Senate and awaits Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. We hope she signs it, just as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis did just last week.

So far, the National Popular Vote bill includes 13 jurisdictions with 181 electoral votes. It has been signed into law in places small (Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii and the District of Columbia); large (New Jersey, Illinois, New York and California); and medium (Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington). The movement avoids abolishing the Electoral College through constitutional amendment, too, leaving the structure in place.

Under the current system, the winner takes all, with laws in 48 states awarding all the electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in that state. When victory appears certain, many states are ignored, candidates spend their time in so-called swing states and ignore everyone else. In 2012, two-thirds of the general election campaign events took place in just four states. In 2016, almost 94 percent of campaign events were in the 12 states where Donald Trump’s support was between 43 percent and 51 percent, according to figures at nationalpopularvote.com. Again, most of the nation was left out of the discussion.

We appreciate concerns that using only the popular vote might mean the marginalization of rural voters — canny candidates would concentrate on urban areas or the coasts, and leave flyover country alone, goes the argument. While that could happen, we see an expanded electoral map.

Right now, a citizen in blue California who wants to vote for the red GOP candidate might be discouraged and stay home. She knows that her vote won’t count because California’s electoral votes will go the Democratic candidate. The same goes in red Texas; why turn out to support the Democratic candidate if your vote doesn’t really matter? If every vote counts, then citizens across the country have more reason to show up at the polls.

Besides, we have seen in gubernatorial races in our own state that candidates ignore rural areas at their peril. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not campaign from Albuquerque. She was on the road throughout New Mexico, stopping in small towns and villages to ask, in person, for support. That’s what would happen in a national election if all votes counted.

As for the argument that the Electoral College is what the Founding Fathers intended, we’ll say this: The Constitution also allowed slavery and did not allow women to vote. The country has moved on from several wrongheaded notions in its founding documents. Now, we should move to the election of the president by majority vote, restoring trust in the electoral system and expanding the campaign to all 50 states.