A majority of Baker County voters, in common with their counterparts in much of rural Oregon, have for the past couple decades or so been effectively neutered when it comes to statewide elections.
Voters in predominantly rural counties almost always prefer Republican candidates. And in the case of ballot measures, they choose what could reasonably be termed the conservative side.
But Oregon, with exceedingly rare exceptions, elects Democrats to statewide offices and to the U.S. Senate. And on a host of issues, ranging from whether hunters should be able to use dogs to pursue cougars and bears, to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the liberal position prevails.
That’s how our electoral system works, of course, and we don’t object to it.
But there is an exception, and it’s a pretty important one — the Electoral College. We’ve been using it since 1804 to elect the president and vice president. The Electoral College offers rural voters, in Oregon and in other states, the rare chance to have their preferences reflected in an election even when that preference runs counter to the urban precincts where rural voters are hopelessly outnumbered.
But Democrats in the Oregon Legislature would like to take that last bastion of relevance from rural voters.
The state House last week passed a bill that would add Oregon to the states joining the National Popular Vote movement. The bill would require the state’s electors to award Oregon’s Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. If states whose combined total of electoral votes totals at least 270 join the campaign, they could in effect circumvent the Electoral College without changing the U.S. Constitution.
Although Oregon lawmakers have tried this tack before — bills in 2009, 2013 and 2015 were blocked in the Senate — the national popular vote movement has been energized by the improbable election of Donald Trump last November. Trump is the fifth U.S. president to lose the popular vote.
State Senate President Peter Courtney, who blocked the three previous bills, said he would allow the full Senate to vote this time, provided the bill leaves the final decision to Oregon voters.
We think this would be a mistake.
It’s likely that if the question of joining the popular vote movement went to Oregon voters, a majority would endorse the idea.
In one sense this wouldn’t matter.
After all, Trump lost the popular vote in Oregon, and our state’s seven electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton. In other words the typical Oregon pattern prevailed — Trump won most of the state’s counties (28 of 36) — but he lost the state.
But in another sense it matters a great deal.
Because at least rural voters — including the 71 percent of Baker County voters who cast their ballots for Trump — had the satisfaction of knowing that their preferred candidate also won the election.
The National Popular Vote Movement would deprive rural voters of even that.
Trump’s presidency might turn out to be the disaster that his most zealous critics already insist that it is. But hysterical predictions don’t justify dismantling a 213-year-old system that has served our nation well, and has prevented urban voters from becoming a tyrannical majority in all electoral matters.
Something Baker County voters understand all too well.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.