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Oregon mulls joining National Popular Vote movement

FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2015, file photo, the Capitol building is reflected in a pond on the Capitol grounds in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

Oregon legislators are considering a proposal to elect the president of the United States by popular vote for the fourth time in last eight years.

Oregon is among several states including Connecticut and Colorado currently attempting to join the so-called National Popular Vote compact, which has gained momentum after Donald Trump's Electoral College victory in November.

The interstate agreement would require Electoral College delegates to cast ballots for the national winner of the popular vote. It's triggered when enacted by states with at least 270 combined electoral votes, the magic number needed to clinch the presidency. The compact is already 61 percent of the way toward meeting its goal, with 165 electoral votes from the 11 states that have signed on so far.

Although Oregon has just seven electors, it's one of a dozen states where the compact has been approved by one of their two statehouse chambers. Oregon's previous bipartisan efforts in 2009, 2013 and 2015 were successful in the House but ultimately failed in the Senate.

The bipartisan process is starting again in the House through House Bill 2731, which drew divided testimonies from more than 220 people at its first public hearing Tuesday in Salem.

"To willfully attempt to nullify the voice and vote of rural America is un-American and discriminatory at best," Joseph Rice, chair of the Oregon GOP second congressional district committee, wrote to the committee. "Eugene, Salem and Portland may live in their urban utopia, but they only do so with the products manufactured and produced by rural Oregon and America. To silence their voice is an insult to democracy."

However, the proposal garnered accolades from groups such as the League of Women Voters of Oregon and the Independent Party of Oregon, which has collected more than 500 signatures petitioning the Legislature's approval, as a way to ensure that all votes are weighted equally.

Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million, but he clinched more than enough electoral votes, 304, to win the presidency. The Pew Research Center says Trump had the seventh-smallest percentage of the popular vote across all presidential elections since 1828.

John Koza, chair of the National Popular Vote, noted several Supreme Court rulings that such interstate agreements don't threaten federal supremacy and the electoral vote structure is a state-level decision. He also addressed concerns with regard to voter fraud and recounting votes, a controversial issue in battleground states such as Pennsylvania in 2016 and Florida in 2000.

"The reality is that if you have a pool of 140 million votes, the shenanigans that might have gone on in a state like Pennsylvania ... would be washed out in the large national outcome," Koza told lawmakers. "Nobody wants imperfect outcomes, but the current system magnifies the possibility of fraud, it magnifies the incentive of fraud in the battleground states."

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