Michigan House Elections Committee advances national popular vote legislation

By: - June 6, 2023 6:20 pm

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Michigan’s Democratic-led House Elections Committee voted 6-2 along party lines Tuesday to advance legislation that would commit the state to awarding its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

House Bills 4156 and 4440, both sponsored by Rep. Carrie Rheingans (D-Ann Arbor), would add Michigan’s 15 Electoral College votes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws to join the interstate agreement, for which compact members pledge to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. 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 205 after Minnesota signed on last month; that would grow to 220 if Michigan joined.

Rheingans told the Advance in May that “people want their vote to count.

“They want their vote to be equal,” she said. “Right now, we have an election of the battleground states in America. I mean, to be honest, we don’t have a presidential election in all of the United States of America. Presidential candidates spend their time and their money in battleground states.”

Currently, 48 of the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, award their electoral votes based on which candidate gets the most votes in that particular state. Maine and Nebraska partly award electoral votes based on congressional district.

Because electoral votes are allocated based on each state’s population, plus the number of senators and representatives in its U.S congressional delegation, it is possible for candidates to gain the presidency by winning the right combination of states while still losing the popular vote nationwide. Former President Donald Trump won the presidency but lost the popular vote in 2016; the same happened with former President George W. Bush in 2000.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said that the bill’s passage out of committee on Tuesday was an important step in protecting democracy and putting Michigan voters first.

“We’re seeing movement across the country – from Minnesota recently passing this legislation, to lawmakers considering bills in Nevada and Alaska,” Barnes said. “Adding Michigan’s 15 electoral votes will get us closer to applying the concept of ‘one person, one vote’ to our presidential elections.”

Michigan Republican lawmakers have previously supported similar efforts; no state GOP lawmaker is backing the current legislation. In 2018, Republican lawmakers – former Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell) and former Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw) – were the lead sponsors on bipartisan legislation that would have resulted in Michigan joining the national popular vote compact.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) issued a statement Tuesday accusing House Democrats of “actively working to diminish Michigan’s influence in presidential elections.

Instead of working across the aisle to help make Michigan a more attractive place to live and work, Democrats are pushing the National Popular Vote Compact that would further undermine Michiganders and let coastal elites take our voices away,” Hall said.

The Michigan House of Representatives Freedom Caucus also released a statement in opposition to the bill on Tuesday, calling the national popular vote a “radical attack on the Electoral College.” Rep. Rachelle Smit (R-Martin), said that HB 4156 was “irresponsible legislation” that would remove the oversight of Michigan’s voters.

“Public trust in our elections is at an all-time low, and House Democrats are keen to remove the oversight Michigan voters have in deciding which candidate receives our 15 electoral votes,” Smit said in the statement. “We could see a situation where the state electors cast their ballots for someone who lost our state by hundreds of thousands of votes.”

Various pro-democracy and voters’ rights groups have spoken out in support of the bill, including Voters Not Politicians, the Michigan League of Women Voters, and Mothering Justice. Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said that voters “sent a clear message” in the last election cycle against the undermining of elections. 

“Enacting National Popular Vote in Michigan is the logical next step for those who want to protect our democracy and ensure that the candidate with the most votes is elected president,” Wang said in a statement. “Today’s affirmative vote in the House Elections Committee represents an important step in adding Michigan as the 16th state to pass a National Popular Vote bill.”

Christina Schlitt and Paula Bowman, co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said the national League of Women Voters has since the early 1970s “taken a position that direct election of the president by popular vote is essential to representative government.”

Michigan Advance Assistant Editor Anna Gustafson contributed to this story.


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Lily Guiney
Lily Guiney

Lily is a contributor to the Michigan Advance and a former reporting intern. Her coverage areas included state government and politics, including abortion rights and gun violence prevention issues.