LANSING, Mich. – Michigan would award its 15 electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote if enough other states also join the pact under a 2022 ballot initiative announced Monday by former top leaders in both major political parties.
Fifteen states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws supporting the national popular vote movement. It would be successful when member states account for at least 270 electoral votes — the minimum threshold to secure the presidency. The number now stands at 195.
Twice this century, the loser of the popular vote has become president. And the 2020 race came down to narrow margins in a handful of swing states despite Democrat Joe Biden scoring a decisive win over President Donald Trump in the popular vote.
The ballot drive's organizers include the former chairmen of the Michigan Democratic and Republican parties, Mark Brewer and Saul Anuzis. The committee, Yes on National Popular Vote of Michigan, needs roughly 340,000 valid voter signatures to be certified. The Republican-controlled Legislature, where bills to join the arrangement have died, could either adopt the proposal or let it go on the statewide ballot.
Under the current system, each state is assigned a certain number of electoral votes based on population. In all but two states, the winner of a state's popular vote takes all of the electoral votes.
Backers of Michigan's ballot initiative contend that method gives candidates little incentive to campaign in many states or to pay attention to issues in states where the outcome is not in doubt. They also say it has led to needless recounts and lawsuits.
“We believe that enacting the national popular vote will restore faith, confidence and stability in the American political system,” Brewer said. “It will help make sure that our government is more responsive, accountable and answerable to ordinary people.”
Michigan was a presidential battleground in 2020 and 2016 and received a lot of attention. But both Brewer and Anuzis said that status could wane, with candidates choosing to focus elsewhere, like in 2012 and 2008.
Anuzis noted that Republican presidential candidate John McCain eventually stopped campaigning in Michigan in 2008, which had a “devastating” effect on down-ticket GOP candidates.
“That would never have happened if we had a national popular vote. You could not afford to walk away from 10 million people in Michigan and have a 5%, 2%, even 1% drop in presidential election turnout whether you're a Republican or Democrat," he said. “Under a popular vote interstate compact ... Michigan voters, whether they're Republican, Democrats or independent, will have a voice every single time.”
Asked why Republicans should support the measure since both Trump and George W. Bush were elected despite losing the national popular vote, Anuzis said it is a “unique, quintessentially fair process that whoever gets the most votes wins. ... Republicans and/or Democrats will have an even chance or a fair chance of winning the national popular vote when every voter in every state is politically relevant every time and gets to participate every time in the presidential elections.”
A conservative group, however, quickly criticized the measure and said it would “disenfranchise" Michigan voters.
“This disastrous proposal would make issues voters care about irrelevant while centering political power and decision-making in the nation’s biggest cities where liberal elites have assembled en masse,” said Tori Sachs, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund.
The organizers were largely mum about funding for the ballot drive. It typically costs millions of dollars to pay circulators unless there is an army of volunteers.
“We're just getting started here,” Brewer said. “We do intend to try to get small donations across the board. ... We're going to have complete disclosure in our regularly filed campaign-finance reports. You're going to see where the money is coming from.”
National Popular Vote, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said it is focusing in 2021 on Michigan and eight other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia.
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