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Will Oregon Join States Trying To Change Presidential Election System?


Senate President Peter Courtney speaks to the public in the rotunda of the capitol building in Salem on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

Senate President Peter Courtney speaks to the public in the rotunda of the capitol building in Salem on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

Oregon Senate leader Peter Courtney is facing renewed pressure to allow legislation that would change how the president is elected.

Controversy over the U.S. system for choosing a president flared anew after Donald Trump won the electoral college and the presidency, even though more people voted for Hillary Clinton. The same thing happened in 2000 when George W. Bush eked out an electoral vote win but lost the popular vote. Just four years later, Bush won the popular vote by more than 3 million — but a switch of just 60,000 votes in Ohio would have thrown the election to Democrat John Kerry.

Trump told “60 Minutes” this weekend he continues to support putting the winner of the popular vote into the White House. 

“I’m not going to change my mind just because I won,” he said. “But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.”

National Popular Vote, a group seeking a new election system, launched in 2006. It has persuaded 11 states and the District of Columbia to pass legislation agreeing to reward their 165 electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. 

But the interstate compact can’t take effect until states with at least another 105 electoral votes approve legislation. 

In Oregon, the House has passed popular vote legislation in 2009, 2013 and 2015. But Courtney prevented the legislation from coming to the Senate floor on each occasion.

Barry Fadem, president of National Popular Vote, said his group is focused on urging voters to pressure Courtney.

“They almost don’t need to contact their legislator,” he said. “The only legislator you need to contact is Sen. Courtney. That’s because we had enough votes on the floor of the Senate to pass the Senate each time the House has passed the bill.”

Courtney did not return calls Monday for comment. He said in a 2013 interview that he didn’t like the bill because he feared candidates focused on the popular vote would bypass smaller states.

Fadem and other popular vote supporters argued candidates already restrict almost all of their campaigning to a small number of swing states. They argue this would ensure candidates would campaign throughout the country.

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