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National popular vote for president builds momentum in Michigan

Donald Trump rally in 2016
Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 despite collecting fewer votes nationally than Hillary Clinton. (Steve Lagreca /
  • New Michigan coalition pushes to elect presidents by popular vote
  • ACLU, Voters Not Politicians, Women Voters back change
  • Former Republican leaders also urge GOP support

LANSING — A national push to guarantee U.S. presidents are elected by popular vote is gaining momentum in Michigan, where the Democratic Party and a powerful coalition of voter rights groups are backing previously-stalled legislation. 

Those groups — including the ACLU of Michigan, Voters Not Politicians and the state’s League of Women Voters — have helped overhaul Michigan election laws in recent years. They said Wednesday that joining the National Popular Vote Compact would be a "logical next step" in their "pro-democracy" movement.


"National popular vote is about strengthening our democracy, because it's one person, one vote," said Nancy Wang, executive director for Voters Not Politicians, which helped organize recent state redistricting and voting reforms. 

"You must ensure that a presidential candidate who wins the most votes heads to the White House, and that hasn't been the case in two out of the last five elections," she said, referencing the 2000 and 2016 elections of former presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. 


The U.S. Constitution established the Electoral College to elect presidents but allows states to decide how to award their individual electoral votes, which are distributed based on population and congressional representation. 

Michigan currently has 15 electors and, like most states, pledges all of those to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in the state's general election. 

But under bills set for reintroduction Wednesday in the new Democratic-controlled Legislature, and set for committee hearings as soon as next week, Michigan would instead join a compact of states willing to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

The compact would only take effect if enough states sign on to reach the 270 delegates needed to win the White House. If the new legislation is approved, Michigan would be the16th state to join the compact, pushing the running total of pledged delegates to more than 200. 

Similar Michigan proposals have stalled in recent years despite at least some bipartisan backing and could again face a complicated path. Democrats hold narrow two-seat majorities in each chamber, and some legislative Republicans have previously bashed the concept, including Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt.

"The National Popular Vote would allow a few large-population blue states and cities to overwhelm the rest of the country when choosing a president," Nesbitt,  R-Porter Township, said in 2021, arguing the compact would empower big states like California but would be "disastrous" for Michigan. 

"Our Constitution’s electoral college system allows the meaningful participation of voices in Michigan and middle America. Let's stop the Left’s latest power grab."

Several former GOP leaders are backing the push, however, including former state House speakers Kevin Cotter and Chuck Perricone, former Senate majority leaders Mike Bishop, Randy Richardville and Ken Sikkema, and former Michigan GOP chairs Saul Anuzis and Laura Cox. 

"Let us be clear: The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is not a partisan issue," the former GOP leaders wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to lawmakers. 

"Throughout our respective political careers, we have seen Michigan’s status as a battleground state rise and fall thanks to the ebb and flow of national partisan politics. By enacting the compact, the Legislature ensures that the impact of each and every vote cast here in Michigan equals that of any and all votes cast in every other state in presidential elections."

Separately, the new coalition announced Wednesday includes the Michigan Democratic Party, the NAACP, Common Cause Michigan and Mothering Justice, a Detroit-based organization devoted to amplifying the voices of mothers of color on policy issues.  

There have been five U.S. presidents elected without winning the popular vote, most recently Bush and Trump, both Republicans.  

In 2016, Trump won Michigan by 10,744 votes to receive all 16 of the state's Electoral votes. He won the full electoral college 304-227 but lost the national popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by three million votes. 


Sixteen years earlier, Democrat Al Gore topped Bush by 217,279 votes in Michigan and captured all 18 of the state's electors. Gore won the national popular vote by 543,895, but Bush became president because he won the Electoral College vote 271-266.

"Our current system is clearly broken, and we can change it,” said sponsoring Michigan Rep. Carrie Rheingans, D-Ann Arbor, who noted that U.S. Supreme Court justices appointed by Bush and Trump were instrumental in overturning Roe v. Wade’s national abortion protections last year. 

Deciding presidential elections by the popular vote would mean that "every voice will be heard, no matter where you live, what you look like or what party you support," Rheingans argued. 

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