Backing the popular vote

Scott Mackay // Published May 14, 2008 in The Providence Journal

Rhode Island would join a national compact to require that the presidential candidate with the most popular votes would win the White House, under legislation approved last night by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Connors, D-Cumberland, Rhode Island would enter a compact to require that the electoral college system used to choose American presidents switch to electing presidents by popular vote. The measure was approved on an 8-to-1 committee vote.

“If you get the most votes, you should win an election,” said Christopher Pearson, a Vermont state representative who has lobbied around New England for the legislation and was at the State House yesterday.

The compact idea seeks to bypass the electoral college by getting legislatures, one by one, to enter their states into an interstate compact under which states would agree to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

The compact would take effect only when enough states had joined to elect a president — that is, when states equaling at least 270 electoral votes, the amount needed to claim the presidency, agreed.

The lone vote in committee against the idea came from Sen. Leo Blais, R-Coventry. “In a popular vote, Rhode Island loses its strength because we are a small state,” said Blais. “The electoral college system was set up by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to protect small states, just as the Constitution protects the small states by giving each state two senators.”

The measure now goes to the full Senate. Identical legislation has been introduced in the House, where it is in the House Finance Committee.