Will Minnesota join the push to switch to a national popular vote?
Brian Burnstein has long been confounded by the Electoral College used to select the president.
The Maple Grove resident finds the system of giving states different levels of say, vs. holding a national popular vote, "outdated and so far removed from what it was originally intended to do."
"It should be one person one vote," he said. "Everybody votes directly."
Earlier this year, as the 2020 election was in full swing, Burnstein learned of a proposal to effectively implement just that.
The current system, created by the framers of the U.S. constitution, grants each state a number of presidential electors, based on population and congressional representation, to decide the election each four years. But under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, participating states would agree to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins a majority nationwide.
Supporters say the change will press candidates to appeal to more Americans, not just those in key swing states, and put an end to recent scenarios where the winner of the popular vote failed to actually capture the presidency. To Burnstein, the switch, seemed like a no-brainer.
The compact takes effect once enough states have joined to tip the scales and send all 270 electoral votes needed to win to the leading candidate. So far, 15 states representing 196 electoral votes signed on.
Minnesota, which has 10 electoral votes based on its congressional representation, is not among the adopters.
Burnstein wondered why that was the case. Seeking results, he brought the question to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's community reporting project that answers questions from readers.
The simple answer to Burnstein's query is that joining the compact requires approval from the Minnesota Legislature. That hasn't happened.
While the proposal passed the DFL-led state House as part of a broader bill in 2019, the Senate has not taken up the idea.
Republican Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state who chairs the Senate's elections committee, said she has concerns that the approach, which gets around amending the constitution by forming an interstate compact, is legally fraught. She also worries the change would give voters in smaller states and regions less relevance.
"I guarantee you, when you look at the scheme of the national popular vote, it will be New York, it will be California," she said. "Rural Minnesota, our rural Midwest states will get the shaft."
DFL Rep. Mike Freiberg, a sponsor of the House bill, disagrees. He expects to bring it up again next year.
"Ultimately, I think the person who gets more votes should become president," he said. "It might have made sense to have an Electoral College system when the country was created, but it's become less and less representative."
But with Republicans maintaining a narrow majority in the Senate, and the state budget expected to dominate discussions in the upcoming session, swift passage appears unlikely.
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