By Brett Forrest, KSNV, April 8, 2023
Nevada is considering changing the way it elects the President of the United States.
The National Popular Vote compact is a nationwide effort to eliminate the “winner-take-all” electoral college model of selecting the president by replacing it with the winner of the national popular vote.
Five of the 46 presidents in U.S. history won the office despite not receiving the popular vote, including Donald Trump most recently in 2020 and George W. Bush in 2000 (the first was John Quincy Adams in 1824).
Nevada is the latest state looking into joining the chorus with Assembly Joint Resolution 6 (AJR6), which received a hearing in Carson City on Thursday.
I think it’s important that we try and make sure that we hold to our promise of one person, one vote,” said Rep. Howard Watts, D-District 15 and primary sponsor of AJR6. “That every vote has the same weight, that everyone’s voice has the same weight in our election process.
In order to take effect, enough states have to sign onto the compact to add up to the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president. Currently, 15 states plus the District of Columbia have signed on, giving the movement 195 electoral votes.
If Nevada joins too, it’ll jump to 201 with the Silver State’s six electoral votes. But if Nevada signs on and there still aren’t enough states to hit that 270 threshold, then nothing changes for the time being.
We actually have bills in front of 13 state legislatures, which have a total of 160 electoral votes,” said Eileen Reavey, the national grassroots director for National Popular Vote. “So, we have bills moving in Michigan and Minnesota, and we’re really hopeful that both of those are going to join this year. If they join next, they will be putting us at 220 electoral votes, which is only 50 electoral votes away.
Reavey said her group is confident they’ll have the compact in place by the 2028 election cycle.
The electoral college would remain in place, but states in the compact would send all of their electoral votes to whomever receives the popular vote nationwide. So, even if Nevada were to hypothetically elect a Republican one year, if the Democratic candidate receives the popular vote nationwide, Nevada’s electoral votes would go to the Democrat instead. And vice versa.
Supporters of the movement, like Assemblyman Watts, say that still means everyone’s vote counts because the popular vote winner is the one being elected.
“We’re not voting for the president of Nevada, we’re voting for the President of the United States,” said Watts. “In that scenario, say it’s the opposite.”
Say a Democrat wins by 51% of the vote. Well, those 49% that voted for the other candidate, their votes go out the window. Under National Popular Vote, their votes still count in trying to figure out who got the most votes across the United States to be the President of the United States.
This isn’t the first time Nevada has tried to sign onto the pact. In 2019, Watts supported it in the form of a legislative bill, but then-Governor Steve Sisolak, also a Democrat, vetoed the bill.
Opponents of the compact point to that veto as evidence this would hurt the status and relevance of smaller states like Nevada, but Watts said it illustrates its nonpartisan nature.
“I’m not bringing this forward for partisan reasons. So folks on both sides of the aisle can make arguments for and against this,” said Watts on Friday. “That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I think it’s the best way for individual voters’ voices to be heard in our presidential election.”
He said that’s why he’s brought it forward as a constitutional amendment this time, so that the people can choose to adopt the measure. In Nevada, a constitutional amendment must pass through two separate legislative sessions before going to a vote of the people. Because of that intensive process, this wouldn’t take effect until 2028 at the earliest.
But Watts’ decision to bring it as an amendment is also being called out by critics as an attempt to bypass a possible veto from Republican Governor Joe Lombardo.
Janine Hansen, chair of the Nevada Independent American Party, is one of the opposition leaders on the measure.
“We’ve had a lot of presidential interest in our state, we’ve had all kinds of presidential candidates coming here,” said Hansen. “They’re not going to come here after National Popular Vote, because it only matters which states have the most people voting.”
People like Watts and Reavey disagree that Nevada will be forced into irrelevance. They noted the recent change to make Nevada second in the presidential primary calendar will ensure it continues to receive national attention. But those calendars aren’t set in stone and could always change.
Reavey also thinks this movement will encourage presidential candidates to campaign in every state instead of focusing on just a handful of battleground states like Pennsylvania or Nevada.
We’re going to see them being more concerned about issues on a national level, rather than really specialized interests that affect a small amount of chronically undecided voters in these states,” said Reavey.
Janine Hansen also voiced concern over the popular vote standard not having a minimum percentage for a winner to be declared.
“If you had four or three presidential candidates, a presidential candidate could win with as little as 35% of the popular vote,” she said. “Well, that doesn’t give any national mandate to anybody. And that would be a huge concern under this particular bill.”
Bills have until April 14, one week from today, to get out of committee and advance to a floor vote. Watts said nothing is scheduled officially as of yet, but he’s confident it’ll move forward.