SANTA FE – Fresh off a divisive election season, the Senate on Monday approved legislation adding New Mexico to an interstate compact aimed at guaranteeing the president – in future elections – would be elected by national popular vote.
The measure, Senate Bill 42, passed the chamber on a party-line 26-16 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, and now moves on to the House.
“By doing our part to move toward a national popular vote, we can begin the process of regaining the voters’ trust in our elections and ensure their voices are equal to every voter across the country,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor.
However, several Republican critics of the legislation accused Democrats of pushing the change in response to President Donald Trump’s victory.
“Just because we didn’t get our way means we pout and change the entire system,” complained Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell.
The Roundhouse debate comes on the heels of a presidential election that generated renewed debate over the Electoral College.
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College despite receiving nearly 2.9 million fewer votes nationwide. Clinton carried New Mexico and won all five of the state’s electoral votes, despite not holding any public campaign rallies here. Trump made two campaign stops in Albuquerque.
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.
The Senate’s vote on Monday made it the first chamber in the nation to pass such legislation this year, according to a national group promoting a popular vote system.
However, 10 other states have already enacted similar bills in previous years, including California, Vermont, Washington and Illinois.
Opponents of the popular-vote system argue that it would allow urban areas to decide elections and fear that it would undermine the importance of states in the election process.
“Basically, we would be giving our sovereign power … away to other states,” Pirtle said during Monday’s debate.
Stewart said she’s been working on the issue for years. She also sponsored similar legislation in 2009, while she was a member of the House. That bill ultimately died in the Senate.
Stewart also said the current Electoral College gives oversized impact – and attention – to key battleground states.
“Essentially, 38 states are left out when it comes to presidential elections,” Stewart said.