(Host) The Vermont Senate has endorsed the concept of electing the president by a national popular vote.
Supporters say the change is needed because it would bring direct democracy to presidential elections.
But critics say it could diminish Vermont’s influence on the national stage.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) Under our current system, a presidential candidate can lose the national popular vote but still win office by winning enough electoral votes.
That’s what happened in 2000, when George W. Bush came in second in the national election. But he became president after the disputed Florida re-count gave him a narrow Electoral College victory.
Windham Senator Jeannette White says that’s not right.
(White) "The bottom line is that we have a system in which some folks are more equal than others. This is not the way most of us think a democracy should be run."
(Host) Presidential elections are now decided by just 538 electors. These are the people who actually cast votes in the Electoral College. The electors now vote for the candidate who wins the majority in their home states. White sponsored legislation that would require each state’s electors to support the candidate who won the most votes nationally.
So, hypothetically, Vermont electors might have to support a candidate who came in second among Vermont voters.
The bill triggered strong debate on the Senate floor. Some senators charged that the change could backfire on small states like Vermont.
Franklin Senator Randy Brock said he looked at the numbers, and found that with Vermont’s three electors, the state has influence greater than its actual number of voters. He said that under White’s bill, states with large populations will determine presidential contests.
(Brock) "Like New Jersey, California, like Pennsylvania, like Ohio. These are the states that will benefit from the national popular vote. States like Vermont, and Alaska, and Wyoming and Idaho will not. They will lose the value of their vote."
(Dillon) Senators debated whether the bill circumvented the Constitution – or if it would cause presidential candidates to bypass the smaller states.
Washington Senator Anthony Pollina said for him the question boiled down to whether a second-place finisher should be allowed to win.
(Pollina) "I do think the New England Patriots would have liked it if they have could have done that in the game against the New York Jets a little while ago. And so we’re actually the winners. We don’t allow that to happen, but yet in this case we’re saying the person who comes in second in the most important race that we ever encounter actually could be the person who wins."
(Dillon) The bill won preliminary approval on a 20-10 vote. If the House agrees and Governor Peter Shumlin signs it, Vermont would become the seventh state to adopt the measure. The change would take effect nationally only when states with a total of 270 electors – that’s the number needed to elect a president – sign on.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.