Guest column: Consider context in popular vote debate

Gov. Steve Sisolak decided that his first veto should be Assembly Bill 186, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. As president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada, I feel compelled to respond to the governor’s veto.

The League of Women Voters supported the national popular vote as the method for electing presidents in 1970 after doing a thorough study on our nation’s evolution on direct elections. It similarly adopted a position in 2010 to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Although supporters of AB186 worked to make educational material available and put facts on record, various media outlets repeatedly mischaracterized the compact and reported false claims about how it would change Nevada’s presidential elections.

We reached out to representatives from the governor’s office to gauge his position on the bill, but we were told that he would not engage on legislation before final passage. That was truly unfortunate. If we could have communicated with the governor, here’s what we would have offered in support of AB186.

First, it’s important to understand critical historical context of our voting system.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison offered the Virginia Plan for organizing a new federal government. Madison was from Virginia, a state with many slaves, and his plan called for those slaves not to be excluded from a census. As a result, slave states would receive representation in Congress based largely on their number of slaves — a proposal that northern states rejected.

A series of compromises resulted, including counting slaves at three-fifths of a person in the Census and the Electoral College. These two compromises gave southern states extra representation in the House of Representatives and extra votes to elect the president.

The founders also decided that state legislators, not individual voters, would select a state’s federal senators. In all, the cumulative effect of the compromises was to give the elite inordinate power over the federal government, which caused the Anti-Federalists to reject the Constitution.

A range of Americans took up the Anti-Federalist arguments and resisted elite control by removing property requirements for voting and empowering average people to control local and state government.

The next wave of reform that gave more power to individual Americans to elect their representatives came after the Civil War. The 14th and 15th Amendments recognized black men as eligible voters and every person’s right to equal protection under the law.

In the early 20th century, the 17th Amendment stopped the practice of state legislators selecting federal senators, and the 19th Amendment extended the right to vote to women. In the 1960s, the 23rd Amendment allocated Electoral College votes to Washington D.C., the 24th Amendment banned poll taxes, and in 1971, the 26th Amendment extended the right to vote to 18-year-olds.

Despite the founders assuming political parties would never form because of our diversity of opinions, they actually started the first two political parties to organize political life. And by the 1800 election, many states were allowing the parties to select the slates of electors in presidential elections.

In the modern era, political parties use the Electoral College process to conserve resources by focusing on only a handful of battleground states instead of expending the effort needed to treat every voter equally.

So it’s not small states advantaged in the Electoral College system, it’s swing states. In the 2016 election cycle, Florida received 71 campaign visits, Pennsylvania received 54 and Ohio received 48.

None of these are small states. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and other red states received zero visits.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact responds to this problem. If passed, AB186 would not have bypassed the Electoral College; it is written to align with the same constitutional authority used by the states to allow political parties to select slates of electors.

The legislation states that when enough state legislatures join the interstate compact to equal 270 electoral votes, those state legislatures will allocate their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner.

AB186 could not have applied to the 2020 election because not enough state legislatures are considering the compact to equal 270 electoral votes, and the bill could not change Nevada’s First in the West caucuses.

The caucuses are managed as private events by political parties. So candidates would still visit Nevada because of our standing in the caucus schedule.

Nevada will not always be a swing state, and once we become solidly blue or red, candidates may ignore us during the post-primary election cycle.

Some studies predict this could happen as soon as 2024, but many of those studies also predict that Nevada will remain a bellwether for diversity. And because we have relatively small markets, candidates looking to test messaging will get a bigger bang for their campaign dollar here rather than in larger states.

It’s regrettable that we never had the opportunity to speak to the governor or his staff.

For more information, visit nationalpopularvote.com

Sondra Cosgrove is a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada and is president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada.