Electoral college debate

Attorney Andy Garner (center) speaks in favor of maintaining the Electoral College as Randy Smith, to his left, prepares to take the opposite position during a Lincoln/Douglas-style debate at the Rome Tea Party lunch meeting Thursday at Fuddruckers.

The National Popular Vote interstate compact, which would nullify the Electoral College, has passed in 15 states — and Georgia is among the nine others where legislation is pending.

The Rome Tea Party staged a mock debate last week to look at both sides of the issue.

In support of the Electoral College was attorney Andy Garner, who said the Founders put it in the Constitution deliberately as part of the system of checks and balances.

“Direct elections result in the election of tyrants or extremists,” Garner said.

Opposing him was Rome Tea Party co-founder Randy Smith, who donned a camouflage shirt to indicate he was just playing a role.

Smith called the Electoral College, “one of the most undemocratic functions of the Constitution,” noting that the document begins with the words, “We the People of the United States.”

Currently, each state is assigned a set number of electoral votes, with a total of 538 distributed nationwide. The candidate who gets the majority wins the presidency.

Georgia and 47 other states have enacted winner-take-all laws that give all their electoral votes to the state winner.

Maine and Nebraska still apportion theirs based on how the state vote splits.

Five of the 45 U.S. presidents were elected despite losing the popular vote, most recently in 2000 and 2016.

Under the NPV compact, the states pledge to award all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally. It would go into effect only if it’s enacted by enough states to elect a president; states having a total of at least 270 electoral votes.

In the local debate, Garner contended that the Electoral College protects the interests of smaller states and prevents candidates from pandering to the most populous areas.

“I see no reason to surrender the presidency to the New York and Los Angeles media markets and leave so-called fly-over states like us at the mercy of their whims,” he said.

Statistics on the NPV website indicate that the concept of “fly-over states” also exists under the Electoral College — with the most attention going to populous battleground states where the vote appears to be divided.

For example, just 12 states accounted for 94% of the campaign events in the 2016 general election, netting 375 of the 399 candidate appearances: Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia.

The NPV compact was launched in 2006 as a bipartisan nonprofit.

Legislation was first introduced in Georgia in 2007 by Democrats in the House. Democrats in the Senate and House both submitted bills in 2009, but they again failed to move to a floor vote.

A Republican, Chuck Sims of Ambrose, took up the banner in 2011. He called for a study committee and, in 2012, co-sponsored legislation with two Democrats and Independent Rusty Kidd of Milledgeville.

It failed to move but, in February 2016, a slate of powerful Republicans backed the compact.

In the Senate the bill’s sponsor was David Shafer, the former president pro tem of the Senate who was just elected chairman of the Georgia Republican Party on Saturday.

He was joined by four Republicans, including the governor’s floor leader John Kennedy, and the Democratic Leader Steve Henson.

In the House, Republicans Earl Ehrhart, Penny Houston, Ron Stephens, Chuck Martin and Sharon Cooper were joined by Democrat Stacey Abrams as the lead sponsors.

The House Interstate Cooperation Committee recommended approval, but neither piece of legislation was brought to the full chamber for a vote.

In 2017, six Senate Democrats sponsored NPV legislation that never made it out of committee. They’re back again with a proposal this year.

Senate Bill 42 is pending in the chamber’s Ethics Committee. It’s sponsored by Henson and Democrats Harold Jones II, Gloria Butler, Emanuel Jones, Elena Parent and Valencia Seay. The current session runs through 2020, so it remains alive for consideration next year.

Fifteen states with a total of 189 electoral votes have enacted the National Popular Vote compact, leaving 81 votes to go. Georgia has 16 electoral votes.