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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 The Electoral College is outdated, and it’s undemocratic,” said Sen.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 SchatzWarren introduces bill targeted at food insecurity on college campuses On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing MORE (D-Hawaii), who is spearheading the constitutional amendment efforts.

The proposal is backed by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Senate approves long-delayed tax treaties in win for business MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally First responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations 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 MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Senate Democrat releasing book on Trump admin's treatment of migrants at border 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 John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump rally: 'The time has come again' to fight for democracy Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' The Memo: Democrats debate Trump response – 'Being righteous and losing sucks' MORE. Former President George W. Bush also won the presidency in 2000 after losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreCan Biden's canceled cancer initiative be salvaged? Sanders says he backs abolishing Electoral College Warren reintroduces bill mandating climate disclosures by companies MORE

“I’m for it. I’m for it,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic Sen. Chris Murphy announces book on gun violence Lawmakers join Nats Park fundraiser for DC kids charity Democrats look to demonize GOP leader 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) TesterTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out 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 CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders mounts staunch defense of 'Medicare for All' | Biden, Sanders fight over health care heats up | House votes to repeal ObamaCare 'Cadillac Tax' | Dems want details on fetal tissue research ban Senate approves long-delayed tax treaties in win for business The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff 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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

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

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' 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 KaineDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Federal guidance identifying 'go back to where you came from' as discrimination goes viral after Trump comments Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing 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 CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship MORE (D-Del.), when asked about his colleagues introducing the constitutional amendment, sighed and then said, “I’m having a busy enough day.”