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R.I. joins interstate compact to reform presidential elections

The group of nine states and D.C. hopes to use a popular vote system instead of electoral college

This summer Rhode Island joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a group of states attempting to reform the presidential election process.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 signed the legislation in early July, putting the compact more than halfway toward the number of electoral votes needed in order for it to take effect.

Under the current electoral college system, a presidential candidate need not win the popular vote, so long as he or she receives a majority of electoral votes — 270 — to win the presidency.

But states that are part of the compact will instead commit their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

The compact needs 270 electoral votes to go into effect. The addition of Rhode Island’s electoral votes brings the support behind the compact to 136 electoral votes, more than half the requisite amount.

“The compact will make our democracy more representative because the winner will be chosen by the votes of the people and because every vote in every state will matter in an election that fills the most important office in our nation,” said Sen. Erin Lynch, D-Warwick and Cranston, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, in a press release.

“A national popular vote would be vastly superior to the current system, which practically shuts out over 30 ‘safe states,’” wrote Chafee in an opinion piece for the Providence Journal.

Rhode Island is a small state that has typically been a one-party lock, Chafee wrote. “Right now, candidates have no reason to campaign here, organize here or spend money here — getting more or fewer popular votes will almost never change the electoral vote outcome.”

If the system changed to a national popular vote, candidates would have an incentive to campaign in smaller states like Rhode Island, he wrote.

Chafee added that the current system does not adequately represent minorities, writing that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently passed a resolution in support of the national popular vote movement.

The NAACP passed the resolution in part because “more than 80 percent of African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans live in the 37 least competitive states, compared to 70 percent of white persons,” Chafee wrote.

Chafee also wrote that 74 percent of Rhode Islanders supported a national popular vote in a 2008 poll and that the measure has received support from 70 percent of Americans “since the dawn of public polling.”

“No one is pushing Electoral College systems for governors or other offices,” he added.

Sen. David Bates, R-Barrington, Bristol and East Providence, who opposed the legislation, said the current electoral college system has “worked fine since the Founding Fathers wrote it in the Constitution.”

“History is on our side,” Bates added.

Similar legislation is currently being debated in about 12 other states, according to the press release.

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