By Matt Murphy
BOSTON — Four times in the history of the United States — most recently, George W. Bush in 2000 — a president has been elected without winning the national popular vote.
A growing number of states, however, are moving to redraw the electoral map with a changed system that would hand over the keys to the White House to the winner of the national popular vote.
“Instead of those red and blue maps, you’d have a ticker counting votes, and Massachusetts voters would be courted and driven to the polls,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, who is spearheading the effort. “The winner would be the candidate who got the most votes like every other election in this country.”
The state Senate is scheduled to take up the proposal next week after the House passed the bill earlier this month by an overwhelming 113-35 majority.
A poll conducted in late May showed that 72 percent of Massachusetts voters support the idea of using the popular vote to elect the president.
The bill would enter Massachusetts into a compact with other states that have agreed to pledge their Electoral College electors to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the winner in each state.
The law would only take effect once enough states have passed the legislation to control a majority of Electoral College votes — 270.
The bill was scheduled to get a vote in the Senate last week, but Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield, tabled the bill questioning why lawmakers were wasting their time debating it with two years until the next presidential election.
He said lawmakers’ time would be better spent considering bills aimed at getting the economy moving and spurring economic development.
A total of 30 legislative chambers in 19 states have passed the national popular-vote bill, though it has only been signed into law in five of those states — Washington, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey.
Those five states control 61 electoral votes, 169 short of the 270 needed to guarantee the election of the popular-vote winner.
Massachusetts currently controls 12 Electoral College votes, though that number could decrease to 11 before the next presidential election should the state lose a seat in Congress based on the 2010 Census.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate this year.
“At the end of the day, we want to make sure every American, every voter has the same influence with his or her vote,” Eldridge said. “The current system of winner-take-all gives certain key, smaller states and swing states more influence over the election.”
A switch to a national popular-vote system would force presidential candidates to campaign more in places like Massachusetts, where more than 4 million people are eligible to vote, Eldridge said.
Though the legislation would essentially allow states to circumvent the Electoral College, proponents say it is not an end-run around the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution explicitly gives states the right to determine how its electors are selected.
Forty-eight states use a winner-take-all approach in choosing their electors, but Maine and Nebraska still apportion their electors based on congressional districts.
Critics contend that Massachusetts would be forfeiting its say in the election by pledging its electoral votes to a candidate who voters here might not have supported.
Supporters, however, point out that Massachusetts voters would gain clout because their votes would be just as important as those of people in Ohio, Florida or Pennsylvania.
The national popular-vote bill actually passed in both the state House and Senate in 2009, but died as the clock ran out on the legislative session before the Senate could enact the bill.
The late-night push to get the bill approved was complicated by threats from Republicans to filibuster and jeopardize other pending legislation.
“We have five weeks left this time, and it could still be tight depending on how obstructionist our opponents want to be,” Wilmot said.
Eldridge said he finds it troubling that one Republican senator had blocked an up-or-down vote on a simple piece of legislation that has been debated for years.
“This is a bill that a lot of people care about and, with all due respect to Sen. Tisei, I find it ironic that we have one senator blocking a bill that would allow the majority of Americans to decide who is the next president,” he said.