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Short Explanation
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee a majority of the Electoral College to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would reform the Electoral College so that the electoral vote in the Electoral College reflects the choice of the nation's voters for President of the United States.   more
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The National Popular Vote bill has been enacted into law in states possessing 165 electoral votes — 61% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate the legislation.

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    LA City Beat
    Electoral College Drop-Out
    A new proposal aims to circumvent the Electoral College and return the franchise to most of America’s voters
    LA City Beat column
    By Andrew Gumbel
    March 9, 2006

    A new proposal aims to circumvent the Electoral College and return the franchise to most of America’s voters.

    We all know there's been something less than straightforward about the past couple of presidential elections, but here, perhaps, is the most alarming thing of all.

    In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore focused their campaigns on about 18 states they deemed to be remotely competitive. California, being solid Democratic turf, was not one of them. In the end, the race boiled down to four key states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida – with Gore snagging the first two, Bush snagging Ohio and ...well, we all know what happened in Florida.

    In 2004, the number of states seriously contested by Bush and John Kerry had gone down to about 13. California, once again, was not one of them. This time, the race boiled down to just three key states – Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio.

    In 2008, the presidential race is likely to be more restricted still. Pennsylvania is currently shifting from marginally Democrat to comfortably Democrat – as Rick Santorum knows all too well. Ohio, beset by monstrous Republican Party scandals, is trending Democrat, too. Most of the other states are hardening their partisan allegiances rather than softening them. Which means the whole contest could come down, once again, to the swampy, alligator-infested electoral turf of Florida.

    What this means, in practical terms, is that while all voters in this country are invited to participate in the crowning ritual of their electoral democracy, most of their votes are meaningless, and growing more meaningless all the time. In 2004, only a quarter of the electorate lived in states where the candidates bothered campaigning at all; fewer still were in the big battlegrounds. And in 2008 those numbers are set to dwindle further.

    The fault for all this, of course, lies principally with the Electoral College, the system of indirect presidential election that was born out of messy compromise at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and has been a thorn in the side of American democracy ever since. On five occasions, most recently in 2000, the college's arcana have allowed the loser of the national popular vote to enter the White House, and on all but one of them it has prompted some sort of constitutional crisis. In nine or 10 other elections, including 2004, there have been extraordinarily close calls.

    Beyond that, there is the clear problem of de facto voter disenfranchisement in all but a handful of battleground states. California has the largest population of any state, and the largest number of Electoral College votes, but its voters were reduced to little more than spectator status in 2000 and 2004. While the Bush and Kerry campaigns made a total of 61 trips to Florida in the last month of the 2004 campaign, they barely gave California voters a thought, and traveled here only to raise money they could then spend elsewhere.

    The obvious solution to this blatant unfairness would be the abolition of the Electoral College and its replacement with a direct, nationwide presidential vote. It's hard to overstate the advantages of such a change. Candidates would be forced to campaign everywhere, and address the big issues, not just the parochial concerns of a few swing constituencies. (No more pandering to Miami's Cuban exiles, for example.)

    Voters everywhere would be valued equally, giving them far greater incentive to turn out. (California Republicans, or Texas Democrats, or blacks in the white Republican-dominated Deep South would suddenly have a reason to vote in far higher numbers.) Crises like the post-electoral struggle in Florida in 2000 would be a thing of the past.

    And yet we're stuck with the Electoral College, which is hardwired into the Constitution and can only be abolished with the consent of three-quarters of the states. That is never going to happen, short of a meltdown greater than any seen to date, because the smaller states love the fact that they punch well above their population weight in presidential elections and would never willingly give up that advantage.

    Intriguingly, another solution is now in the offing, one that ingeniously circumvents the Electoral College without actually getting rid of it. It's the brainchild of John Koza, a computer scientist and Stanford professor who has been fascinated with the Electoral College ever since he invented a computer game based on it in the mid-1960s. It has been embraced by electoral reform groups including Common Cause and the Center for Voting and Democracy, and championed by a handful of prominent elder statesmen including Birch Bayh, the Indiana Democrat; John Anderson, the Illinois Republican turned independent presidential candidate; and our very own Tom Campbell, the former Republican congressman and economic adviser to Governor Schwarzenegger.

    Here's how it works: The Constitution says that states have to appoint a slate of electors to the Electoral College, but it does not specify how they appoint them. As Antonin Scalia pointed out somewhat sinisterly in the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore ruling, voting for the president on a state-by-state basis has come about by tradition, not by constitutional fiat. The Constitution in fact makes no provision for a right to vote at all.

    What Koza proposes is that as many states as possible join together and agree to cast all their Electoral College votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement would not come into effect until enough states had joined to guarantee a majority in the Electoral College. The agreement would then be cemented with an interstate compact, making it binding in law – quite a bit more binding, in fact, than the Electoral College itself, where so-called "faithless electors" are at liberty to ignore the will of the people and their own state legislatures and switch their vote to another candidate.

    There are several reasons why this is a brilliant idea. First, it would render the Electoral College obsolete except as a historical relic – a bit like the Queen making her annual address to the British parliament. Second, it is not a make-or-break reform with a specific deadline; states can join the movement at their own pace, taking years if that is what it takes. Third, and perhaps most important, once the system is up and running candidates and voters alike would understand they were participating in a de facto direct election and alter their behavior accordingly. The small states would have no right of veto over the will of the majority.

    This new Electoral College reform movement is very much in its infancy. The initiative was launched at the end of the last month. For now, one bill has been introduced in Illinois and another is in the works in California. But there are also plans to lobby state legislatures and lawmakers and, in the 20-plus states where this is possible, to introduce voter-backed ballot initiatives.

    Key to the success of the project will be the perception that this is a genuine public-interest reform, not a bid for partisan positioning by one party or the other. There is a perception that Electoral College reform favors the Democrats more than the Republicans – because the Republicans tend to carry a majority of the smaller states with disproportionately large representation. That said, plenty of Republicans recognize the difficulty of arguing against a national popular vote, just as they realize that a swing of just 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have put John Kerry in the White House without a national popular mandate because of the Electoral College’s arithmetic.

    Tom Campbell points out, rightly, that the Koza plan is eminently achievable. "It does not rely on unrealistic assumptions," he says. "It can be implemented, if the very people who are relatively disenfranchised in our country will only be awakened to how to do it." Let the lobbying and campaigning begin.

    Columnist Andrew Gumbel is the author of (Nation Books).


    Reform the Electoral College so that the electoral vote reflects the nationwide popular vote for President