SALEM, Ore. — Oregon came one step closer this week to joining a national agreement that, should enough states eventually come on board, would effectively dislodge the Electoral College's power and allow the people to elect the U.S. president by popular vote.
In a 34-23 vote Wednesday that fell along party lines, the Democrat-controlled Oregon House passed a bill to join the so-called National Popular Vote interstate compact, which has brought in 10 states plus Washington D.C. since it was first adopted by Maryland in 2007.
The movement saw a boost in interest in several states such as New Mexico, Florida and Colorado shortly after November's Electoral College-win for Republican President Donald Trump — the fifth Commander-In-Chief to lose the popular vote in U.S. history — while California, which joined in 2011, passed a resolution in the Senate in March urging other states to sign on.
Those efforts, however, have since been losing steam, except in Oregon, where lawmakers may let voters have the final say on the matter, potentially in the November 2018 election.
"Every political position is now elected by the majority of the popular vote, except for our president and vice president," Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, a Democrat and chief sponsor of the proposal, told her colleagues before the House vote. "People turn out and vote in large numbers when they feel like their voice is really going to count."
The compact would circumvent the Electoral College without a change to the U.S. Constitution if it's adopted by enough states that, collectively, have at least 270 electoral votes — the magic number a presidential candidate needs to clinch the White House. With 165 votes so far, it's about 60 percent toward its goal.
Oregon would add seven electoral votes to the fold through successful passage of House Bill 2927, the fourth popular-vote proposal to clear the Oregon House since 2009.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where the previous three efforts in 2009, 2013 and 2015 were ultimately blocked from a floor vote by President Peter Courtney, a moderate Democrat and the longest-serving member of the Oregon Legislature.
This year, however, may produce a different outcome. Courtney said last week he'll allow the proposal to the Senate floor so long as final approval goes to voters, not the governor. The bill thus needs to be amended in committee ahead of time.
HB 2927 doesn't necessarily need Republican support to clear the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats, although it does have one GOP supporter in that chamber, Sen. Brian Boquist, who sponsored the bill with 19 Democrats.
Still, some Senate conservatives could echo similar sentiments of their House GOP colleagues, who expressed concerns that electing the president by popular vote would cause unintended consequences, especially to the detriment of voters in rural areas.
"We react to today's reality by changing the rules or laws, thinking that we will never be in the minority, or the majority ... and we suffered for it when our status changes," said Republican Rep. Carl Wilson before Wednesday's vote. "It is often not smart to vote against the brilliant protections designed by elevated thinkers in forming our Constitution."