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Popular vote petition could appear on Michigan ballot next year

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A Bridge Michigan analysis has found that 55 of 110 districts in the Michigan House would have new representatives based on new district maps and term limits. (Shutterstock)

LANSING — Michigan voters next year could decide whether the state should eventually award its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide.

On Monday, the Michigan Board of Canvassers approved the petition language of the bipartisan “Yes on National Popular Vote” campaign. If the group collects 340,047 valid voter signatures within 180 days, the proposal would go on the 2022 ballot. 

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The main backers of the petition are Mark Brewer, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Saul Anuzis, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

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“We want to make sure that every voter in every election is politically relevant every time,” Anuzis told Bridge Michigan on Monday after the vote.

Presidential candidates need at least 270 of 538 votes from the Electoral College, which is composed of delegates from all 50 states. Five times in history, the system has elected a president who got fewer votes overall than their competitor, including Donald Trump in 2016 who received 3 million fewer votes than Democrat Hillary Clinton. 

The ballot measure would ask Michigan, which has 15 electoral votes, to become the 16th state to join an interstate compact that would take effect if more states pledge to award delegates based on the popular vote.

Backers of the Electoral College system say it ensures candidates pay attention to the needs of all states, rather than simply population centers.

Michigan has received outsized attention in recent campaigns as a swing state, and Anuzis said he wants to ensure remains.

“Today, the only states that matter are battleground states. So, for all practical purposes, what happens is we elect the president of the battleground states of America, versus the president of the United States of America,” Anuzis said. 

Anuzis said the group expects to start circulating the petition sometime in December.

The compact, called the National Popular Vote, was created in 2006 by University of Michigan alum John Koza. The group has heavily lobbied in Michigan, at times inviting lawmakers to trips to Hawaii and Puerto Rico

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In 2018, Michigan GOP lawmakers introduced legislation to decide U.S. presidential contests by a national popular vote. Many Republicans supported the bill, including current House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell. 

Wentworth now opposes the plan. Gideon D’Assandro, Wentworth’s spokesperson, told Bridge Michigan that Wentworth “has learned more about it in the years since then.”

Most of the Republican lawmakers in the Michigan Legislature, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, signed a letter last month opposing the national popular vote. 

“It is imperative that the candidate who receives Michigan’s electoral votes is determined by Michiganders — and not by voters in other parts of the country,” the letter, signed by 47 lawmakers, said.

“This proposal would give big cities on the East and West Coast veto power over voters in Michigan … It’s a disastrous idea, and one that should remain on the scrapheap of American history.”

Other critics have argued it will take away Michigan’s political clout.

Tom England, executive director of anti-compact group Save Our States, told Bridge Michigan the popular vote system would eliminate the checks and balances created by the Electoral College.

“With the National Popular Vote compact, states either accept other states results or they just reject other states results,” England said. “And you could have the Secretary of State of Michigan deciding whether to accept results from California or whether to accept results from Texas.”

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