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Virginia House passes bill to give electoral votes to popular vote winner

Virginia’s House of Delegates passed a bill on Tuesday that would award the state’s electoral votes to the national winner of the presidential popular vote.

The measure, HB 177, would look to incorporate Virginia into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement established by each participating state’s laws to put its electoral votes toward the winner of the national popular vote, instead of the state’s own popular vote.

“This idea that some American citizens should have more power than other American citizens to choose the president of the United States, I, frankly, find profoundly offensive,” Del. Mark Levine, the sponsor of the bill, told CNN over the phone.

Levine noted that presidential candidates tend to campaign only in a handful of bellwether states rather than visiting all of them — a strategy that tends to slight heavily Republican and Democratic states, whose votes are less likely to be up for grabs.

Levine hopes that such a bill will bring out voters who feel they are ignored in major election cycles and improve Election Day turnout.

“It allows every single citizen of the United States to have a free and equal vote, and in doing so, everyone has an incentive to vote,” Levine added.

The compact will go into effect only if the cumulative total of the states’ electoral votes surpasses the 270 necessary for a majority, which would require states that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 to sign on. Levine also noted that the pact has a July 20 deadline in order to go into effect for November’s general election.

Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined the compact, for a total of 196 electoral votes, according to National Popular Vote Inc., the organization leading the effort. Most recently, Oregon joined the pact last June. If Virginia were to join, with its 13 electoral votes, the total would bump up to 209.

“The campaign in ’20 may well come down to five or six or seven states. That means the vast majority of Americans are left out of the presidential campaign, and we think that is wrong,” John Koza, the chair of National Popular Vote, told CNN over the phone.

The Electoral College effectively results in voters casting ballots not for their desired presidential candidates but for the 538 electors, who in turn select candidates. The mechanism clinched Trump the 2016 presidential victory despite Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.

Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the more progressive Democratic candidates still in the race for the presidential nomination in 2020, have both called for doing away with the Electoral College. This year’s battleground states being heavily invested in by the Democratic National Committee include Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.

Last month, the Supreme Court decided to take up two cases related to the Electoral College concerning whether a state can bind a presidential elector to vote for the state’s popular vote winner.

Virginia’s bill passed the House of Delegates just in time to “crossover” to the Senate this legislative session.

Since taking over both chambers of the Virginia’s Legislature last month, Democrats in both chambers have passed bills ranging from gun restrictions to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

In a news conference, Virginia House Republicans emphasized the aggressiveness of the Democrats’ agenda and warned of its repercussions for conservative Virginians.

“The last couple of days have been difficult to watch the eroding of things we have tried very hard to protect in terms of protecting Virginia and its citizens. We see the work being done now as damaging Virginians and their opportunities,” said House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, a Republican.

“So I think the time for reflection on whether we’ve been able to find any rays of sunshine here will come, but today is probably not it,” he added.

The Virginia Legislature has an estimated three weeks left in the 2020 session to enact new laws, according to its website.

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