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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Electoral College Reform — The Right Way

Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times report “States Try to Alter How Presidents Are Elected” illuminates an interesting dilemma for Democrats. Stehhauer writes about the GOP-led effort to change California election law to to apportion the state’s electoral votes by Congressional district, instead of the existing winner-take-all system of allocating state electoral votes. Dems quite correctly see this as a thinly-veiled plot to take some of their California electoral votes, which would surely happen, should the proposal be enacted.
When a recent effort to do pretty much the same thing in North Carolina came close to passing, however, many Dems were encouraged. Why? because Dems would almost certainly pick up a few districts and therefore a few electoral votes in the tarheel state, enough to have put Al Gore in the White House in 2000, if apportionment of electoral votes by district had been in place at that time. (Chris Bowers wrestles with the N.C. reform proposal in his Open Left post here). According to Steinhauer, DNC Chair Howard Dean, on learning of the GOP’s California gambit, persuaded the N.C. Democratic leaders to table the measure until next session.
What’s wrong with apportioning of electoral votes by district? Steinhauer explains it this way:

Had the electoral votes been allocated by Congressional district nationwide in 2000, President Bush’s electoral margin of victory would have been just over 7 percent, or eight times his take that year, according to FairVote.

While it would have been nice to pick up a few electoral votes in N.C., it would have weakened Dems’ arguments against the same reform in CA.
Republicans can’t be credible in appealing for the apportionment of electoral votes by district as a “reform.” Last year, the California Assembly passed a bill to award all of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.
The most promising way to get rid of the electoral college is the interstate compact approach, in which a group of states with a majority of electoral votes (270) each passes legislation committing all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. According to the National Popular Vote Bill website,

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states will win the Presidency. In April 2007, Maryland became the first state to enact the bill. So far, the bill has passed 11 legislative chambers. In 2007, the bill passed the Arkansas House, California Senate, Colorado Senate, and North Carolina Senate as well as both houses in Hawaii, Illinois, and Maryland. In 2006, the bill passed the Colorado Senate and both houses in California.

The NPV website has a nifty map showing the progress of the reform on a broader scale. Rob Richie and Ryan O’Donnell of Fairvote further explain the approach in their TomPaine.com post here.
The NPV campaign does seem to be gathering momentum. This may be our best shot at preventing a replay of the 2000 debacle.

One comment on “Electoral College Reform — The Right Way

  1. Albert Whited on

    Interstate compact seems like a tenable solution to the current electoral college mess. It certainly would motivate opposition voters in lopsided states to get out to the polls. But, might it have flaws of its own?
    Presumably a strong showing by a 3rd party candidate could make the popular vote leader winner only of a plurality. Would compact states electoral votes go to that candidate? Or, would such an outcome nullify the compact and the states revert to the old system? How would a public going into an election with one expectation of its resolution react in such an instance?


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