Monday, February 11, 2008

Sidestep The Electoral College?

By NGUYEN HUY VU, Associated Press Writer
Sun Feb 10, 2:16 PM ET

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - If John R. Koza gets his way, American voters will never again have to wonder about the workings of the Electoral College and why it decides who sits in the White House.

Koza is behind a push to have states circumvent the odd political math of the Electoral College and ensure that the presidency always goes to the winner of the popular vote.

Basically, states would promise to award their electoral votes to the candidate with the most support nationwide, regardless of who carries each particular state.

"We're just coming along and saying, 'Why not add up the votes of all 50 states and award the electoral votes to the 50-state winner?'" said Koza, chairman of National Popular Vote Inc. "I think that the candidate who gets the most votes should win the office."

The proposal is aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2000 election, when Al Gore got the most votes nationwide but George W. Bush put together enough victories in key states to win a majority in the Electoral College and capture the White House.

So far, Maryland and New Jersey have signed up for the plan. Legislation that would include Illinois is on the governor's desk. But dozens more states would have to join before the plan could take effect.

The idea is a long shot. But it appears to be easier than the approach tried previously — amending the Constitution, which takes approval by Congress and then ratification by 38 states.

The Electoral College was set up to make the final decision on who becomes president. Each state has a certain number of votes in the college based on the size of its congressional delegation.

Often, all of a state's electoral votes are given to whomever wins that state's popular vote. For instance, even someone who wins New York by a single percentage point, 51-49, would get all 31 of the state's electoral votes.

This creates some problems.

One is that candidates can ignore voters in states that aren't competitive. If the Democrat is clearly going to win a state, the Republican has no reason to court its minority of GOP voters there and instead will focus on other states.

Another problem is the possibility of a result like that in 2000, where one candidate gets more votes overall but the other candidate gets narrow victories in just the right states to eke out a majority in the Electoral College.

National Popular Vote says its plan would change all that.

"What's important to the country is that it would make presidential campaigns a 50-state exercise," said Koza, a Stanford University computer science professor.

Here's how it would work:

States forge an agreement to change the way they allocate general election votes. The agreement would take effect once it's been approved by states with a majority in the Electoral College, or 270 votes.

At that point, the states would begin awarding their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who carries each state.

If the candidates tied in the popular vote, each state would give its electoral votes to the candidate who carried that particular state — basically the same system used now.

There are critics. The downside, they argue, is that a close presidential election would require recounts not just in one or two key states, but throughout the entire country.

They also say it would further reduce the influence of small states as politicians focus on such places as voter-rich California, New York and Texas.

"Any way you look at it, I think smaller populations have a greater voice under the current system than they would under a national popular vote system," said North Dakota state Rep. Lawrence Klemin, a Republican who voted against joining his state in National Popular Vote's agreement.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has not decided whether to sign his state's legislation to join the plan, his office said. When he was in Congress, Blagojevich co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College in 2000.

Legislation endorsing the National Popular Vote plan was passed in California and Hawaii but vetoed by their governors. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it would run "counter to the tradition of our great nation, which honors states' rights and the unique pride and identity of each state."

Koza believes the agreement proposal would standardize the way states award their electoral votes, give every voter equal influence and keep candidates from ignoring some states in favor of battleground states like Ohio and Florida.

He noted that neither presidential candidate visited Illinois in 2004, even though it has a population of about 12.8 million.

"The Republicans wrote it off and the Democrats took it for granted," Koza said, "and that's typical of two-thirds of the states."

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