For the second time in two sessions, Nevada lawmakers are weighing jumping aboard a state-backed compact pledging Nevada’s six electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote.
Members of the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on Tuesday spent nearly two hours in a hearing on AB186, a bill proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson that would add the state to the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.”
The bill, which is sponsored by 11 Democratic lawmakers, would enter Nevada into an interstate compact of states pledging their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president regardless of how each individual state votes. The measure would only take effect once states with a cumulative electoral vote count of 270 (the number needed to win in the Electoral College) sign on to the contract; so far only 12 mostly Democratic-leaning states with 172 electoral votes have signed on (with Colorado poised to soon join).
Supporters of the bill highlighted the five times in American history that a president won an election despite losing the popular vote (most recently Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000) and said the compact would eliminate that possibility. The bill would not move to eliminate the current Electoral College system (which would require a constitutional amendment) and allows states to back out of the compact at any time if they wish.
Thompson said he was bringing the bill forward as a way to ensure that all votes cast in the presidential election counted, as opposed to only those in swing states.
“I want to be clear that this bill is not about partisanship, but a need for our voters, current and future, to feel and know that their vote matters and arguably the most important vote they will cast every four years,” he said.
But testimony on the bill quickly took a partisan turn; Democratic and progressive-leaning groups including the Nevada State Education Association, members of Indivisible Reno and the ACLU of Nevada all testified in favor of the bill, while several Republican groups and the state party appeared to oppose the measure.
Nevada Republican Party Vice-Chair Jim DeGraffenreid told committee members approval of the compact would lead to presidential candidates ignoring smaller states such as Nevada in favor of more populous states and that the idea was merely a “constitutional trick to neuter the Electoral College.”
“To suggest that a state should disregard its own voters and instead follow the will of voters in some other state is the exact opposite of what the Framers intended,” he said.
National Popular Vote, which is a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, has also upped its lobbying presence in Carson City this session, with six individuals registered as lobbyists for the organization. Members of the Assembly Republican caucus met last week with Saul Anuzis, a former Republican National Committee member and lobbyist for National Popular Vote.
The group itself was founded in 2006 with a wide mix of Republicans and Democrats, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean supporting it.
A similar concept was introduced and heard in the 2017 Legislature by former Assemblyman Nelson Araujo but never made it out of committee. The same concept was voted out of the Assembly on mostly party lines in 2009 but failed to pass the Senate.
It’s unclear how much further the current legislation will go; Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson co-sponsored the 2017 legislation but did not lend their names to the current iteration of the bill.