Poll: Majority of U.S. voters support direct election; Arizona senator opposes measure

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By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

A majority of U.S. voters and some Arizona lawmakers continue to support measures to change voting rules, so future Presidents are elected by direct popular vote — not by a majority of the Electoral College.

That’s the finding of a Quinnipiac University poll released March 28, which showed 54% of likely voters overall supporting direct election with 39% opposing.

Direct election was supported by 82% of Democrats and 51% of Independents, while 71% of Republicans opposed; only 13% percent of Democrats oppose direct election along with 39% of Independents, while 25% of Republicans voiced support.

The Quinnipiac poll asked 1,358 voters surveyed nationwide: “For future presidential elections, would you support or oppose changing to a system in which the president is elected by direct popular vote, instead of by the Electoral College?”

Among respondents were 599 who identified themselves as Democrats or Democratic leaning, while 582 identified ad Republicans or Republican leaning. The margin of error for the total group was +/- 3.3 percentage points.

National efforts

According to National Popular Vote Inc., an advocacy group pushing for election reform, so far 14 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — an agreement which would give all of a state’s Electoral College votes to a Presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of that state’s election results.

At their website, National Popular Vote Inc. says the bill would take effect if enacted in enough states to total the 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential race.

“The National Popular Vote bill will take effect when enacted into law by states possessing 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 electoral votes). It has been enacted into law in 15 jurisdictions possessing 189 electoral votes,” the website states.

To change the system, states representing at least 81 more electoral votes will need to sign on to the National Popular Vote bill.

Local efforts

In 2016, Senate Bill 2456 — sponsored by 27 Republicans and 18 Democratic representatives — passed the Arizona House on a 40-16 vote; but the measure was stopped in committee and never got a vote in the Senate.

“It died a quiet death,” said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who then as a member of the House was the measure’s primary sponsor, though he now opposes the direct election measure.

Despite strong bipartisan support in 2016, his Republican colleagues appear to have changed their tune as well.

This year, as a dozen House Democrats and one in the Senate have sponsored a similar measure (House Bill 2414), the bill drew no Republican sponsors this time around and appears dead on arrival this session.

Mr. Mesnard, who has taught classes on U.S. politics, government and the Constitution at Maricopa Community College and Arizona State University for more than 12 years, said he supported the interstate compact in 2016 because he believed Arizonans deserved a greater voice in national politics.

“The discussion over how we elect the President goes all the back to the founding of our government,” Mr. Mesnard said. “Arizona has largely been considered in the past a red state. That means we don’t get as many Presidential contenders coming here and, by extension, our issues don’t percolate into the national discourse. That was always part of my calculus: how can I make Arizona more relevant.”

He clarified the he has always opposed abolishing the Electoral College, but rather supports the right of each state to decide how it participates in the process.

“I’m 100% in support of the Electoral College and that was the case in 2016,” Mr. Mesnard said. “I oppose abolishing it because I believe each state should have its own say in how it divides up its electors.”

He said since the 2016 election, in which Donald Trump won a majority of electoral votes while losing the popular vote, the issue of election reform has become highly politicized.

Many more voters who oppose Mr. Trump have thrown their support behind direct elections as a result, while some Republicans view the issue as a political attack, he suggested.

“Any attempt to do an [interstate] compact is viewed to be a direct attack on his legitimacy as a President,” Mr. Mesnard said. “It’s now so intertwined with the politics of today, I don’t see that it’s possible to have a rational, objective conversation about it.”

And while he may no longer promote similar measures, he also believes the underlying reasons for his former support have changed over the intervening years.

He said since Mr. Trump only won Arizona by 3% in 2016 and Democrats gained seats in 2018, some may view the state as more purple than simply red. And he hopes the 2020 election will see greater national interest in Arizona issues as well as the views of its voters.

“If we were now in swing state territory, and only time will tell, then I would not want to be part of the compact, because we would now enjoy the benefits of being one of the few states that determine the national election for president,” Mr. Mesnard said.

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