Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam

Calls to eliminate the Electoral College are gaining traction within the Senate Democratic Conference, but the push is revealing a divide between White House hopefuls and senators from rural states.

A group of Democratic senators introduced a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would replace the Electoral College with a system that would directly elect the president through the popular vote, marking the second proposal to come out of the chamber in a matter of days. 

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“No one’s vote should count for more based on where they live. The Electoral College is outdated, and it’s undemocratic,” said Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzCongress should reject H.R. 1619's dangerous anywhere, any place casino precedent Alabama Republican touts provision in infrastructure bill he voted against Telehealth was a godsend during the pandemic; Congress should keep the innovation going MORE (D-Hawaii), who is spearheading the constitutional amendment efforts.

The proposal is backed by Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinFour questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Conservatives target Biden pick for New York district court MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinWhat's that you smell in the Supreme Court? New variant raises questions about air travel mandates Progressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEx-officials voice deep concerns over new Pentagon UFO unit Paid leave advocates ramping up the pressure on Manchin and Schumer Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE (D-N.Y.), a 2020 contender.

Efforts to nix the current system have gained momentum as progressive groups and a growing number of presidential hopefuls pitch overhauls of institutional pillars such as expanding the Supreme Court and getting rid of the legislative filibuster.

Enacting a constitutional amendment would be an uphill battle, if not an impossible goal. The amendment would first need to win over two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Durbin, who said he has been opposed to the Electoral College for decades, acknowledged that trying to get rid of it was likely a doomed effort.

“Perhaps it’s just a protest of what’s happened with candidates winning the popular vote and losing the Electoral College,” he said when asked why Democratic senators were forcing the debate now. 

Tuesday’s proposal comes after Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Lawmakers call on Olympic committee to press China on human rights abuses Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Ore.) announced Friday he would be introducing a package of bills that includes legislation to eliminate the Electoral College and establish a "We the People" commission to develop a proposal to provide voting representation for D.C., Puerto Rico, and the territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Electoral College has been a roadblock for Democratic presidential candidates in recent decades. President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE. Former President George W. Bush also won the presidency in 2000 after losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreGOP becoming a cult of know-nothings Man seen with Pelosi lectern on Jan. 6 pleads guilty Judge says Gore, unlike Trump, 'was a man' and accepted election loss MORE

“I’m for it. I’m for it,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrat says he will 'settle' for less aggressive gun control reform 'because that will save lives' Ernst on Russian buildup on Ukraine border: 'We must prepare for the worst' Sunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant MORE (D-Conn.) said as he got in an elevator to go vote before calling back to clarify that he’s “for getting rid of it.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill  On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Senators huddle on path forward for SALT deduction in spending bill MORE (D-Mont.) said he would want to review any proposed changes while noting that the Electoral College is “antiquated.”

“I think the Electoral College is something that is antiquated, so I would be open to taking a look at it,” he said.

Tester added he wasn’t concerned that getting rid of the current system could negatively impact small or rural states, noting they have two votes in the Senate just like bigger states.

“I don’t think it has any impact whatsoever in this day and age. I just don’t. I mean, I know that’s why it was put in initially, but I don’t think it has any impact,” he said.

The push within the caucus to build support for the constitutional amendment comes as several of the party’s presidential candidates have suggested they are open to reforms.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said during a CNN town hall last week that he believes the person who wins the most votes should be president but added that "we have to win the next election under the rules that are there now. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) separately saidshe was "open" to the idea, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) urged supporters to sign a petition supporting "getting rid of the Electoral College."

A growing number of blue states are pledging to band together to commit to awarding their electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote nationally, regardless of the results in the Electoral College. The plan, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, wouldn’t go into effect until it had been passed by enough states to possess a majority, or at least 270, of the electoral votes.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions Democrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill  Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan MORE (D-Del.) noted that his state had recently passed the legislation. But when asked if he would personally support getting rid of the Electoral College, he said it was an “interesting idea” but not something that he’s “stayed up nights thinking about.”

Republicans have seized on the debate as another example of Democrats moving to the left ahead of the 2020 election, where a wide-ranging field is competing to secure votes from the party’s progressive base. The Republican National Committee, in a briefing circulated to reporters, called the push to eliminate the Electoral College an example of Democrats’ “rural disconnect.”

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 Alarm grows over smash-and-grab robberies amid holiday season GOP blocks bill to expand gun background checks after Michigan school shooting MORE (R-Iowa) warned on Tuesday that abandoning the current approach would be "bad news for Iowa and the Midwest generally."

“The U.S. system of government is based on the idea of creating checks and balances so that no one person, branch of government, political party or geographic region of the country gets too powerful, infringing upon the rights of others,” he said. “America’s Founding Fathers established the Electoral College to make sure smaller, more rural states like Iowa get as much attention from the federal government as bigger, more urban states like New York.”

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The push is also drawing skepticism from some Senate Democrats, underscoring the party divisions when it comes to overhauling the electoral system.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump haunts Biden vaccine mandate in courts IRS data proves Trump tax cuts benefited middle, working-class Americans most Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks MORE (D-W.Va.) joked that if the Electoral College were nixed, West Virginia would be “out completely” and people “wouldn’t even know we’re there.”

“I understand people’s thought process on that, but I also understand the Founding Fathers,” he said. “You could naturally believe that a small state like mine would not have any representation at all, we wouldn’t matter at all. So I would not be for it.” 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineLiberty University professor charged with alleged sexual battery and abduction of student Senate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill Menendez jabs State official over Colombian group's terror designation MORE (D-Va.), who was Clinton’s running mate in 2016, brushed off a question about the Electoral College by noting that an amendment to the Constitution was unlikely. 

“I don’t see how it happens with the constitutional ratification. I just don’t see why small states would do it, and so I’m going to focus on things that I think that I can get done,” he said.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions Democrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill  MORE (D-Del.), when asked about his colleagues introducing the constitutional amendment, sighed and then said, “I’m having a busy enough day.”