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National popular vote bill approved

Published (4/29/2011)
By Nick Busse
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Republican George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, despite receiving fewer votes than Democrat Al Gore. Four years later, Democrat John Kerry came within a hair of defeating Bush, despite being more than 3 million votes behind him.

On April 27, a House committee signed off on a bipartisan plan to make sure the presidential candidate who gets the most votes always wins.

Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), HF495 would enact an interstate compact to elect the U.S. president by popular vote. The bill proposes that Minnesota’s electoral votes be cast for the candidate who wins the national popular vote, rather than the state’s popular vote.

“It basically says that our state will agree to give its electoral votes to whomever gets the most votes,” said Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park), who sponsors the bill.

Supporters say the change would eliminate the issue of so-called “battleground states” having a disproportionate influence on presidential politics. Because many states reliably vote Democratic or Republican from one election to the next, presidential candidates often focus their attention on a handful of key states where the popular vote is more likely to swing.

Patrick Rosenstiel, a senior consultant to National Popular Vote Inc., said the current system skews public policy in favor of issues that benefit battleground states. As an example, he said Bush supported steel tariffs during his presidency as a way to appeal to Pennsylvania voters. He said switching to a national popular vote would make every vote count in presidential elections.

“I don’t think the Founding Fathers of this country believed in a system where two-thirds of the country would be relegated to flyover status,” he said.

Eight states have already enacted the compact. It would only take effect if a sufficient number of states follow suit to provide 270 electoral votes, which constitutes a majority.

Approved on a divided voice vote by the House Government Operations and Elections Committee, the bill was sent to the House floor. Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) sponsors the companion, SF1241, which awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

Rep. David Hancock (R-Bemidji) said he opposed the bill because it would push the country toward direct democracy and away from being a representative republic.

“In reality, we have become, then, a democracy, which really is defeating what our Founding Fathers really envisioned for us,” he said.

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