From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0616/p01s02-uspo.html

A Backdoor Plan To Thwart The Electoral College

Some states try to ensure that the winner of popular vote becomes
president.

By Randy Dotinga | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

SAN DIEGO – Picture it: On election day in some future year, a
presidential candidate ends up with the most popular votes but not
enough electoral votes to win.

It’s a repeat of the 2000 election in which one contender, Democrat Al
Gore, took the majority of the national popular vote, while the other,
Republican George W. Bush, clinched the most electoral college votes
and, hence, the presidency.

But this time there’s a twist: A bunch of states team up and give all
their electoral college votes to the nationwide popular-vote winner,
regardless of who won the most votes in their state. Then, the
candidate who garners the most citizen votes in the country moves into
the White House.

Legislative houses in Colorado and California have recently approved
this plan, known as the National Popular Vote proposal, taking it
partway to passage. Other states, too, are exploring the idea of a
binding compact among states that would oblige each of them to throw
its electoral votes behind the national popular-vote winner.

At issue is the nation’s presidential election system governed by the
electoral college. Established by the US Constitution in 1787, the
system has occasionally awarded the presidency to candidates who
couldn’t muster the most votes nationwide, as happened in 1824, 1876,
1888, and 2000.

While an amendment to the Constitution could change or eliminate the
electoral college, battleground states and small states would probably
oppose any change that would leave them with less influence. Indeed,
since the system’s inception, numerous efforts to amend it have been
defeated.

Instead, reformers have turned to the interstate compact, saying it
would be constitutional because agreements between states already
exist.

The compact is designed to take effect only if states representing 270
electoral votes approve the compact legislation, giving those states
majority control of the electoral college. The result: The “compact”
group of states would be able to determine a presidential election.

The plan is supported by electoral reform activists and a bipartisan
advisory group including former GOP Rep. John Anderson (a presidential
candidate in 1980) and former Sen. Birch Bayh (D).

They say the compact would allow long-ignored states to get attention
again in presidential campaigns. The current system has “just taken a
lot of states off of the presidential map,” complains Rob Richie,
executive director of FairVote, a nonpartisan organization based in
Maryland, which supports the compact.

The compact proposal passed the California Assembly on May 30 with all
but one Republican opposing. It awaits a vote in the state Senate and,
if it passes, approval or rejection by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R),
who hasn’t publicly expressed an opinion about it.

Colorado’s Senate approved the plan in April with bipartisan support,
but it has not advanced because the legislative session there has
ended.

Five GOP Assembly members are pushing a popular-vote bill in New York,
and legislators in Missouri, Louisiana, and Illinois have introduced
bills. Advocates hope to put the legislation before every state by
2007, says Mr. Ritchie.

Meanwhile, several newspapers have come out in favor of the plan,
including The New York Times, which calls it an “ingenious solution.”

But in California, GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore derisively refers to
the proposal as a way to “amend the Constitution without amending the
Constitution.”

“It’s like cheating,” says Mr. DeVore, who predicts that the plan would
force candidates to campaign primarily in urban areas with large
populations to win the popular vote.

Under the current system “we discourage regional candidacies and
basically force people who are running for president to have a message
that resonates with the vast middle of America,” he says.

DeVore supports a system that would allocate some of a state’s
electoral votes based on the popular vote in congressional districts,
an approach that exists in Nebraska and Maine. All other states and the
District of Columbia award all their electoral votes to the
presidential candidate who gets the most votes in their state.

It takes 270 electoral votes out of 538 total votes in the college to
win the presidency. That total equals the number of members each state
has in both houses of Congress, with the District of Columbia getting
three of its own.

The electoral college system is “distinctly American,” says Shaun
Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California,
Riverside.

But the proposed system would have another idiosyncrasy: Electors,
typically faithful party members, could be forced to cast votes for the
opposing party. “You’ll be asking dyed-in-the-wool Democrats to vote
for Republicans, and that’s not going to go down well,” Mr. Bowler
says.

In US history, there have been about 700 failed proposals in Congress
to change the electoral college system, according to the Office of the
Federal Register.

“It’s safe to say that there has been no aspect of what the founders
worked up in Philadelphia that has received more criticism than the
electoral college,” says historian Rick Shenkman of George Mason
University.

If any state approves this new proposal, legal challenges are
inevitable, Bowler says.

But he figures there might be a way to dampen enthusiasm. “You could
say the French elect their president directly,” he says. “I’m thinking
that will get people running away from any support: If the French do
it, is it really right for the US?”