Committee OKs popular vote measure

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By Tris DeRoma

Republicans on the House State Government, Election and Indian Fairs Committee Wednesday urged their fellow committee members to keep the Electoral College system for the presidential vote.

House Bill 55, a bill to elect the president by popular vote, was passed along party lines in the committee Wednesday.
Committee member State Rep. William Rehm (R-Dist. 31) said bringing back the popular vote would diminish New Mexico’s impact on the national vote for president. Rehm said the electoral college was created so “the will of one part of the country would not overshadow the will of the rest of the country,” Rehm said. “It seemed to make sense at that time, and it seems to make sense in the current day, as well.”

Also speaking at the committee meeting was New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. She said she was once in favor of the Electoral College, but changed her mind after reviewing the results of the 2004 election between George W. Bush and John Kerry.

After listening to what Republicans involved in that election said about what happened in Ohio, a key “swing state” at the time, Toulouse Oliver said New Mexico’s five electoral votes weren’t ever going to matter in a close election.

“At the end of the day, a presidential election held in 2004 came down to 80,000 votes in one county, in one state in this nation,” Toulouse Oliver said. “That changed my line right there, because at the end of the day, our current system is allowing that to happen.”

Committee member and State Rep. Greg Nibert (R-59) said that would’ve happened no matter what party, Republican or Democrat, had the majority of the vote. Nibert was the Republican Chair in Chaves County during the 2004 election.

 “…You could say those things and back it up with some numbers, but I remember on Election Day how excited we were that we were actually in play and that our five votes actually mattered,” Nibert said. “In my book, I would say Chaves County, New Mexico, was the place that tipped the scales, not Cuyahoga County, Ohio, so we can look at things a little differently there. The fact is, you can pick out some things after the fact and say ‘yeah, if we worked a little harder in this area or that area, maybe we would’ve won or lost.’”

Barry Fadem, president of the California-based National Popular Vote Inc., told the committee that under the current electorate system, New Mexico will remain a “spectator state,” because of how the electorate system favors certain states.

“The beauty of the national popular vote that it makes every state a battleground state,” Fadem said. “Why should where you are located geographically determine if you’re a battleground state?”

Nibert said battleground states are determined by election experts and party leadership.

“I think you’re still going to have parties going through calculations, experts going through calculations to determine where they get the best bang for their buck,” Nibert said.

He also said the Electoral College was created by the founding fathers to protect the smaller states from being controlled by the more populous states, like California, Texas, New York and others.

“…The compromise that was made was to try to protect the unpopulated states from the potential ability of the populous states to basically run over them,” Nibert said.

The committee voted 6-3 in favor of the bill, which is now in the Judiciary Committee.

When asked afterward about what would happen if the presidential popular vote eventually becomes a reality, Nibert said New Mexico Democrats and others that voted for the bill could be sorry some day.

“If this goes through and actually goes into law… it would be interesting to see what the reaction of this body would be if a Republican wins the popular vote, New Mexico votes 60-70 percent for the Democratic candidate and all five of our electoral votes would have to go to our Republican candidate. That would be an interesting discussion in this very house years from now if that were to occur.”