The Basis for AB 2948 Now On Governor Schwarzenegger's Desk: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote

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By Dr.John R. Koza, 6 Sept. 2006, Co-author of Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote

In elections for President of the United States, every person's vote should be equally important, regardless of the state in which the vote is cast. The presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes throughout the country should win that office. The current system does not satisfy these principles.

The major shortcoming of the current system is that the voters in two-thirds of the states are ignored by presidential campaigns. Because all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate winning the state, neither presidential candidate bothers to poll, visit, organize, or advertise in a state that is heavily predisposed toward one political party or the other. Instead, candidates instead concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided battl eground states, where active campaigning can swing an iffy bloc of electoral votes.

In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their advertising and campaign visits in a mere five closely divided "battleground " states, and over 99% of their advertising in just 16 states. Seven of the nation 11 most populous states (including California), 12 of the 13 least populous states, and most of the other states are mere spectators in presidential elections.

It isn't a matter of whether babies in California and 33 other spectator states get kissed by traveling presidential candidates, but that the candidates concentrate their policy attention on issues of concern to the voters of the battleground states, while ignoring issues of concern to voters in two-thirds of the states. Thus, Iowa's ethanol regularly receives outsized attention in presidential campaigns, whereas California's issues do not. Issues that are ignored during a presidential campaign generally continue to be ignored during the entire life of an Administration, because the incumbent's reelection depends on the battleground states, not the spectator states.

A second shortcoming of the current system is a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. The winning candidate did not receive the most popular votes nationwide in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have given the Presidency to John Kerry, even though President Bush had a 3,500,000-vote lead nationwide.

The United States can have nationwide popular election of the President if states amend their state election laws to make the Electoral College reflect the voters' nationwide choice – instead of the voters' state-by-state choices. The California Legislature has just passed legislation to this effect (AB 2948, originally sponsored by Tom Umberg, John Laird, and Merv Dymally). Governor Schwarzenegger has until September 30 to act on this bill.

Under this bill, each state would award its electoral votes to the presidential candidate receiving the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would only come into effect when identical legislation is enacted by states representing a majority of the people of the country (that is, states possessing a majority of 270 of the 538 electoral votes). These identical state laws would guarantee that the presidential candidate with the most votes nationwide would receive enough electoral votes to win the Presidency. This proposed state-level approach (called an interstate compact) offers a politically practical and constitutional way to achieve what 70% of the people have long wanted – nationwide popular election of the President.

Although it is sometimes argued that least populous states benefit from the current system, a national popular vote for President would be especially advantageous to the small states. Twelve of 13 smallest states are not politically competitive in presidential elections. These states together have 11 million people. In comparison, Ohio has 11 million people and 20 electoral votes. Because of the two-vote bonus that all states receive in the Electoral College, these 12 small states together possess a seemingly impressive 40 electoral votes – twice Ohio's. However, the winner-take-all rule makes Ohio the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the non-competitive small states receive almost no polling, visits, advertising, organizing, or policy attention. for President would make the small state's 11 million people as important as Ohio's 11 million.

Some believe that the Republican Party benefits from the small states. However, in the past five presidential elections, six of the smallest states regularly voted Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota); six regularly voted Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC); and New Hampshire has been a battleground. Even though Kerry lost the popular vote in the 13 smallest states by 2.5 million to 2.7 million, Kerry won 25 electoral votes to Bush's 19 – hardly a Republican advantage.

Some speculate that candidates would only pay attention to big cities under a nationwide vote. Contrary evidence comes from the way presidential candidates presently campaign inside the closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio or Florida. Because every vote is equal inside battleground states, presidential candidates avidly seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns. The big cities do not receive all the attention, and Cleveland and Miami certainly do not control the outcome. Indeed, suburbs and rural areas account for about three-quarters of the voters in these states as well as nationally. Similarly, national advertisers do not write off a state merely because a competitor has a 10%-edge in sales. The leading company does not abandon a state merely because it has already has a lead. Instead, both go after every single possible customer.

Under the National Popular Vote bill, neither Democrats nor Republicans could afford to ignore the concerns and interests of voters California and the numerous other spectator states. States should take advantage of the power they possess under the Constitution and reform the Electoral College so that it reflects the will of the voters on a nationwide basis.

Dr. John R. Koza is co-author of the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote and originator of the proposed "Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote." Email:

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