SALEM, Ore. — Tapping into Democratic anger over the country's election process, Oregon is joining a number of Democrat-controlled states in pursuing a workaround to the Electoral College and switch to a popular vote model.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 4-1 on Wednesday, paving the way for a full floor vote on whether the state should join the National Vote Interstate Compact, a pledge between states to give their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote.
It's a way to effectively bypass the Electoral College, a system that's been criticized following the 2016 presidential election. President Donald Trump became the second Republican in five elections to win the presidency through the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.
Candidates in the crowded race for next year's Democratic presidential nomination have backed the move to overhaul country's election process. Senate Democrats have also introduced a constitutional amendment to scrap the system, but it's likely to hit a dead end in the deeply-divided Congress. Constitutional amendments must be passed by two-thirds of both houses, and then would need to be ratified by three-fourth of states.
The National Vote Interstate Compact, however, wouldn't require a constitutional change. Pledged states would agree to give all their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. In theory, that could mean Democratic states would be bound to give all their electoral college votes to a Republican if that candidate received the most votes nationally.
The compact would only go into effect when enough states join to reach 270 electoral votes, the threshold needed to win the White House.
Opponents of the Electoral College say that the system gives an extraordinary amount of power to a handful of swing states, where presidential hopefuls spend the most of their money and attention.
"By ensuring that each vote has an equal impact on the outcome of the presidential election, national popular vote gives each citizen equal power in elections, regardless of the state where the voter lives," said Ricardo Lujan-Valerio, a policy associate with ACLU Oregon.
The compact, which began over a decade ago, is only 81 electoral votes short of its goal. Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have signed onto the agreement so far, and Oregon's enactment would mean another 7 votes toward the 270 vote threshold.
Ohio, a historic swing-state and popular campaign stop, is also considering joining the compact which would contribute another 18 electoral votes.
Supporters of the Electoral College include smaller, more rural states, which fear scrapping the system would mean candidates would pay more attention to densely populated areas to secure the maximum amount of votes.
Sen. Shemia Fagan, a Democrat from Portland, said that switching to a popular vote model actually enhances the voices of rural voters, especially those in populous states. She said that Republicans in Oregon often feel inconsequential because the state's large Democratic base makes its electoral outcome a near foregone conclusion.
"For the first time, it would actually be one person, one vote," she said. "It would actually give Republicans in Oregon a voice in our national presidential election."