By Thomas Mitchell
Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak rightly chose to stand up for his state instead of his party and vetoed Assembly Bill 186 — the ill-advised Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.
The bill landed on Sisolak’s desk after passing the Assembly and state Senate with every Republican voting in opposition and even five Democrats in the Assembly. It would have awarded Nevada’s six electoral votes — one for each representative and senator in Congress — not according to how Nevadans vote, but those six votes would have been awarded to the president and vice president team that wins the popular vote nationally.
AB186 would have negated Nevada’s votes entirely since it would matter not for whom we vote. It would matter only how the populous states such as California and New York vote.
“Over the past several weeks, my office has heard from thousands of Nevadans across the state urging me to weigh the state’s role in our national elections,” Sisolak wrote in a press release explaining his first veto of the legislative session. “After thoughtful deliberation, I have decided to veto Assembly Bill 186. Once effective, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.”
The Founders chose to elect presidents via an Electoral College rather than by popular vote to further the Federalist system in which each state is sovereign. They gave smaller states extra votes for each of its senators, just as every state sends two senators to Washington no matter its population. Until the 17th Amendment in 1913 changed the process to a popular vote, state Legislatures elected senators so the states could protect their sovereign powers from usurpation by Washington.
The National Popular Vote has already been approved in 14 states and the District of Columbia. That represents 189 electoral votes. The measure would be binding, though probably face a legal challenge, once states representing a majority of 270 out the 538 electoral votes join the compact.
Sisolak went on to say, “I recognize that many of my fellow Nevadans may disagree on this point and I appreciate the legislature’s thoughtful consideration of this important issue. As Nevada’s governor, I am obligated to make such decisions according to my own conscience. In cases like this, where Nevada’s interests could diverge from the interests of large states, I will always stand up for Nevada.”
Approval of the National Popular Vote probably would have turned Nevada into a state ignored by the candidates for president. On the day of the veto, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was campaigning in the Silver State. A baker’s dozen of the 20-odd Democratic presidential contenders have already visited here, some multiple times and more visits are scheduled.
One proponent of the measure was Battle Born Progress. Its executive director, Annette Magnus, was quoted by various news media as saying, “We are disappointed that Governor Sisolak chose this bill, of all bills this session, to be his first veto. AB186 was a chance for Nevada to move towards the principle of every individual person’s vote for President mattering in national elections. This compact agreement would have eliminated the perception that one’s vote doesn’t really count because one lives in a ‘red’ state or ‘blue’ state, which serves as a source of disenfranchisement for many voters.”
Similar bills came up in the Nevada Legislature in 2009 and 2017, but failed to pass.
If the National Popular Vote had been in force in 2000 Nevada’s then four electoral votes would have been enough to flip the election to Al Gore, even though George W. Bush won the popular vote in Nevada by 49.5 percent to 46 percent, winning every county except Clark. Bush won the electoral vote 271 to 266, but lost the popular vote by 540,000 nationally.
The instigation for the current push is the fact that in 2016 Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote by 304 to 227, though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million. Clinton won by 4 million votes in California.
This country was not founded as a democracy. It was founded as a republic … if we can keep it, as someone once said. The governor’s veto is a move in the right direction to keep it.