FILE — Oregon state capitol building

A view of the Oregon state capitol building in Salem, Oregon on February 25, 2021. The building has been closed to the general public since March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(The Center Square) – Oregon will get a seat at the table for a conversation on how the nation elects presidents, represented by none other than Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, the state's top elections official.

Fagan, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, will advise the National Popular Vote, a nonprofit behind a bipartisan movement to amend the U.S. Constitution allowing voters to elect the president through a popular vote.

Since its inception, the nation has elected presidents through the Electoral College, as written in the U.S. Constitution, which awards states electoral votes based on the number of lawmakers who represent them in the U.S. House and Senate.

Under the winner-take-all system, most states' electoral votes fall solely to the candidate who wins the popular vote in each state. Maine and Nebraska are the only two states to split their electoral votes, with a portion allotted to the winner of the vote in each congressional district.

The voting by the Electoral College is certified by Congress the following January, a process that was subject to disruption this year during the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, out of which the nonprofit was born, would reform the Electoral College should it shore up the votes to convene a Constitutional Convention.

The group is pushing for a compact between the states to choose electors to the Electoral College based on the winner of the national popular vote. 

According to Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, states retain absolute control over awarding their electoral votes. By contrast, "winner-take-all" systems are not named in the Constitution.

To date, 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined the compact since it was conceived in 2006.

Critics of the Electoral College argue the system is unrepresentative of the nation as a whole by giving more weight to smaller states, which are guaranteed at least three electoral votes between the U.S. Senate and House. As the biggest, most diverse states like Texas, California, and New York grow, the system undermines racial representation on the national stage, critics say. They also claim the Electoral College is undemocratic by allowing presidents to be elected with a minority of the national popular vote, which was the case for Republican candidates in the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections.

Supporters of the Electoral College contend the system's job is to protect smaller states' interests from those of larger states'. The electoral college still aligns with the popular vote more often than not, as it did in 2020, supporters say.

Oregon joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in 2019 by a largely party-line vote of 37-22 in the state Legislature as Fagan, a state senator at the time, was among its most vocal backers.

“One-person-one-vote is critical to the foundation of our democracy, and National Popular Vote ensures that this principle is upheld in one of our most sacred democratic processes – selecting our President,” Fagan said. “I am proud Oregon has long been a leader in elections reform to ensure the voices of individuals across the political spectrum and geographic divide are heard. Joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact was one step in that long journey.”

Former House Minority Leader and State Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, said at the time joining the interstate compact would not solve the underlying problems with American elections, nor would it necessarily spur greater voter turnout.

"There are issues relating to elections and voting in the United States such as gerrymandering, allegations of voter suppression, voter fraud, purging of voter registries," Wilson said. "Nothing in the National Popular Vote Compact addresses the real issues plaguing our electoral system."

The nonprofit is chaired by former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and advised by a board of sitting and past elected officials, election law scholars, and electoral reform advocates.

Fagan will be joined on the board by fellow Secretaries of State Jena Griswold of Colorado and Steve Simon of Minnesota, along with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, and Republican consultant Rick Tyler. Former U.S. Reps. Tom Campbell and Tom Downey also serve on the board with former U.S. Sens. Jake Garn and David Durenburger.

To see presidential elections held by a popular vote, the National Popular Vote Interstate compact needs 270 electoral college votes; so far, it has picked up 196.

Voting continues to be a top priority for Oregon state lawmakers in 2021 as the state Legislature considers restoring voting rights to prisoners behind bars, bringing it line with just two other states. 

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.