A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced legislation Feb. 27 in the Delaware General Assembly aimed at restoring fairness to presidential elections by empowering the voice of Delawareans and other forgotten voters.
Senate Bill 22 would add Delaware to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a growing alliance of states committed to guaranteeing that the U.S. presidency is held by the candidate who receives the most votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“One person, one vote is a hallmark of our democracy,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, the bill’s prime sponsor in the state Senate. “But for too long, our votes for the highest office in the land have only mattered if we live in one of a few battleground states. This bill helps ensure that every vote — in every state — will matter.”
Senate Bill 22 does not seek to eliminate the Electoral College, the process set out in the U.S. Constitution for electing the president.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would keep the Electoral College system intact but alter individual state laws that determine how electoral votes are awarded — rules entrusted to the state by the founders of the nation.
Most states use a “winner-take-all” system that gives all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that specific state. That system didn’t become widespread until the 1820s.
The bill’s sponsors say that systems flaws are obvious, as, at a time when many states are either safely blue or red, the winner of those states’ electoral votes is often a foregone conclusion. As a result, candidates can count wins and losses long before they hit the campaign trail, focusing instead on “battleground” swing states while ignoring “safe” states.
Ignoring the margin of victory — the key factor in the national popular vote — also ignores large swaths of the electorate. President Donald Trump, for example, captured 20 electoral votes in Pennsylvania in 2016 by winning the Keystone State by 44,300 votes. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, took three electoral votes by winning Delaware by a margin of 50,500 votes.
Increasingly, the current system also is producing what are called “wrong winner elections,” including two presidents in the last 16 years who won office despite losing the popular vote. That also includes another near-miss in 2004 when Democrat John Kerry was a mere 60,000 votes in Ohio away from winning the presidency, despite losing the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would change that system by ensuring a winning number of electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the national popular vote.
“In every other election across the spectrum, from school board to state legislator to U.S. Senate, we elect candidates through a popular vote,” said Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, the bill’s prime sponsor in the House. “By passing the National Popular Vote, every Delaware voter’s vote will matter just as much as those of voters in the swing states that get all the attention from presidential campaigns.”
Fellow co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, said the current “winner-take-all system” is “a cumbersome and often confusing process, especially when voters feel like their vote, red or blue, doesn’t matter.”
“I believe this compact fits the spirit of the original intent of our Founding Fathers who believed that all the people of all the states, not the select people of a select number of select states, should determine the outcome of our most sacred national elections,” said Spiegelman.
Eleven states have signed on including several of Delaware’s neighbors, such as Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Colorado is expected to become the 12th state.
The compact would not take effect, however, until its member states account for a majority of the electoral votes. The coalition currently accounts for 172 electors, 98 short of the 270 needed for the compact to go into effect if a presidential candidate wins the Electoral College but not the national popular vote.
“Significantly, this proposal does not require an amendment to the federal Constitution, which would permit the Delaware Legislature to leave the compact if there are unforeseen flaws in this proposal,” said Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Elsmere, a co-sponsor of the bill.
SB22 has been assigned to the Senate Elections, Government and Community Affairs Committee, where it is scheduled for a hearing on March 6.
Townsend and Delcollo will be appearing at a panel discussion on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Sussex County. The event is set for 2 to 4 p.m. March 3 at Sussex County Council Chamber, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.