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Legislator files bill calling for popular-vote system

SANTA FE – Fresh off a divisive presidential election that generated renewed debate over the Electoral College, a state senator from Albuquerque is proposing legislation that would add New Mexico to an interstate compact aimed at guaranteeing the president – in future elections – would be elected by national popular vote.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat, said Wednesday that her bill was filed in response to this year’s election, in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College despite receiving nearly 2.9 million fewer votes nationwide.

“I do think there’s something wrong with the system when the second-place winner (in the popular vote) wins,” Stewart told the Journal. “It’s certainly too late for this election, but it’s not too late to back away from this system for future elections.”

Stewart, who introduced similar legislation in 2009 that passed the House but died in the Senate, said she’s been receiving 15 to 20 emails per day from constituents upset about the Electoral College system and this year’s election results.

A national popular-vote system would take effect if enacted by enough states to form a majority of the Electoral College. Under such a scenario, a constitutional amendment would not be needed to make the change, as the Electoral College would not technically be abolished.

Already, 10 states – including California, Washington and Illinois – have enacted such popular-vote legislation.

Arguments against the popular-vote system include the belief it would allow urban areas to decide elections and the fear it would undermine the importance of states in the election process.

Stewart said she expects critics of the legislation to argue that a popular vote system would decrease the influence of New Mexico – the state has five electoral votes – but said she’s trying not to be “provincial” in her thinking.

Under the current system, states are allocated electoral votes based on their population. Specifically, the 538 members of the Electoral College are allocated based on how many representatives each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives plus one for each senator.

Electors in most states are required by law to cast their votes for the candidate who received the most votes in that state.

This year’s Electoral College vote took place Monday. Trump got 304 votes, compared with 227 for Clinton, clearing the way for him to take office next month as the nation’s 45th president.

All five New Mexico electors cast their votes for Clinton, who defeated Trump by 8 percentage points in last month’s statewide vote.

A historical footnote: The current Electoral College system has now, including this year’s race, led to five presidents being elected without winning the nationwide popular vote.

“I think it’s an anachronism,” Stewart said of the Electoral College. “It’s just out of date.”

New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session does not start until Jan. 17, but lawmakers could begin pre-filing legislation earlier this month.