Entrepreneur Tom Golisano Endorses National Popular Vote
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Every Vote Equal:
A State-Based Plan For Electing The President By National Popular Vote
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With forewords from:
- John B. Anderson (R,I–IL)
- Birch Bayh (D–IN)
- John Buchanan (R–AL)
- Tom Campbell (R–CA)
- Greg Aghazarian (R–CA)
- Saul Anuzis (R–MI)
- Laura Brod (R–MN)
- James L. Brulte (R–CA)
- Tom Golisano (R,I–FL)
- Joseph Griffo (R–NY)
- Ray Haynes (R–CA)
- Bob Holmes (D–GA)
- Dean Murray (R–NY)
- Tom Pearce (R–MI)
- Christopher Pearson (P–VT)
Alaska - 70%
Arizona - 67%
Arkansas - 80%
Arkansas - 74%
California - 69%
California - 70%
Colorado - 68%
Connecticut - 73%
Connecticut - 74%
Delaware - 75%
Dist. of Columbia - 76%
Florida - 78%
Kentucky - 80%
Idaho - 77%
Iowa - 75%
Maine - 77%
Maine - 71%
Massachusetts - 73%
Michigan - 70%
Michigan - 73%
Mississippi - 77%
Missouri - 66%
Missouri - 70%
Montana - 72%
Nebraska - 74%
Nevada - 72%
New Hampshire - 69%
New Mexico - 76%
New York - 79%
North Carolina - 74%
Ohio - 70%
Oklahoma - 81%
Oregon - 76%
Pennsylvania - 78%
Rhode Island - 74%
South Carolina - 71%
South Dakota - 75%
South Dakota - 71%
Utah - 70%
Vermont - 75%
Virginia - 74%
Washington - 77%
Washington - 77%
West Virgina - 81%
Wisconsin - 71%
Wyoming - 69%
Dist. of Columbia
New Jersey Assembly
New Jersey Senate
New Mexico House
New York Assembly
New York Senate
North Carolina Senate
Rhode Island House
Rhode Island Senate
A president by popular vote: Some states are looking at ways to circumvent the electoral college and get closer to a system in which the presidency would be decided by a popular vote. (October 5, 2011)
California should join the popular vote parade (July 16, 2011)
A popular vote president (May 1, 2011)
Sidestepping the electoral college (August 18, 2008)
States join forces against electoral college (June 5, 2006)
By a fairly solid margin, Tuesday's presidential election spared Americans the hand-wringing that would have accompanied a split decision like that of 2000. George W. Bush, of course, won the electoral college that year but fell just short in the popular vote. This year, Barack Obama cruised to victory in the electoral college and won the electorate by about 3 million votes.
When a presidential candidate wins the electoral college but loses the popular vote — as Bush, Benjamin Harrison and Rutherford B. Hayes did — it does not diminish the legitimacy of the election. Each of those candidates won by the rules and went on to serve as president. Nevertheless, few Americans would deny that it is troubling and fundamentally undemocratic to be governed by a president who was opposed by more than half of his countrymen.
The electoral college, as it came to be known, was specifically designed to thwart the democratic impulses that alarmed the founders of the republic. Rather than permit a direct vote of the people — remember that "the people" in that era did not include women, blacks or the poor — the Constitution provided that the president would be picked by electors. Those electors would be chosen by the states and allocated according to how many congressional representatives were assigned to each state. The preferences of the people mattered not at all.
Happily, the expansion of the franchise is one of the noblest aspects of America's political evolution. Today, many of those groups disenfranchised at the outset join in what Walt Whitman evocatively extolled as "choosing day." And yet the electoral college remains. There are efforts to replace it, and the 2012 election should once again propel those efforts forward, not to favor one party or the other but to broaden and deepen democracy for all.
There are at least two ways to accomplish that. One would be to abolish the electoral college altogether. But that would require a constitutional amendment, which would mean securing the approval of two-thirds of Congress as well as ratification by three-quarters of the states. In today's political climate, it's difficult to imagine that kind of consensus being achievable.
The other route is more clever. It requires states to pass legislation awarding their electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote. That legislation, however, would take effect only when states with combined electoral votes of 270 or more — the winning margin in the electoral college — sign on to the system. The practical effect would be to ensure that the winner of the popular vote also would win the electoral college, and thus become president. As of today, nine states, including California, with a combined 132 electoral votes have approved the idea.
That system would change the way presidential races are run. Had it been in place this year, for instance, Mitt Romney might have stumped in interior California to boost his popular vote there. Instead, he and Obama bypassed California because Romney knew he could not win it and Obama knew he could not lose it.
Meanwhile, they poured more than $200 million into Ohio, spending so much time there that one election-night commentator remarked that it looked more like a race for governor of that state than for president of all the states. That's the practical effect of the current system: It drives candidates and money to the handful of closely contested states, and encourages them to ignore the larger numbers of voters in California, New York, Texas and other populous states where the balance of power is so squarely on one side or the other that no amount of campaigning is likely to affect it.
That once may have conformed with a crimped view of voting and those permitted to influence the outcome. However, it offends modern sensibilities, and should be replaced by a system in which the winner of the popular vote becomes president of the United States.
The last time the electoral college received much attention was in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote for president while being denied victory over George W. Bush because of a second-place finish in electoral votes. Reformers hoped that discrepancy would be the impetus for approval of a constitutional amendment establishing what many Americans believed already existed: a nationwide popular vote for president. But the moment passed.
Now a legislator in Pennsylvania is proposing a change in that state's election law that would bring the presidential vote there closer to the one-person, one-vote principle that is at the heart of a popular vote. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is proposing that Pennsylvania's electoral votes no longer be awarded on a statewide, winner-take-all basis. Instead, they would be divided proportionally depending on who won in each of the state's congressional districts, making them more reflective of the popular vote in the state. The remaining two votes would go to the statewide winner.
Opposition to this plan has come largely from Democrats, who worry that district-by-district apportionment of electoral votes in Pennsylvania would favor a Republican nominee. That is hardly a principled objection. But other critics object to a situation in which Pennsylvania would opt out of the system used by virtually every other state. (Only two states, Nebraska and Maine, apportion electoral votes partly by congressional district.)
An alternative, and preferable, reform was signed into California law this summer by Gov. Jerry Brown. It commits California to awarding its electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote. The provision, however, takes effect only when states with a total of 270 votes or more — the winning margin in the electoral college — sign on to the system. It's an ingenious approach that would turn the presidential election into a popular vote without a constitutional amendment. (In addition to making the presidential election more democratic, it would also encourage candidates to campaign in formerly "safe" states.)
Of course, neither of these arrangements is a substitute for the abolition of the electoral college through a constitutional amendment. The system is a vestige of a time when states' rights were considered more important than individual rights. If voters can directly elect senators, as they have done since ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, they should be able to vote directly for president.
Presidents do not have any role in the enactment of constitutional amendments. Still, candidates for the office in 2012 should be asked whether they support abolishing the electoral college or taking other measures to ensure that presidents are elected by a majority vote. Their answers would demonstrate just how democratic they think this republic should be.
The Constitution's two-tiered system for electing presidents is outdated. Eight states have joined a movement to direct their members of the electoral college to vote for the candidate who wins the most votes nationally. California should join the list.
Though it is rare, the occasional American presidential election goes to the loser of the popular vote, an outcome that undermines basic notions of fairness and democracy and is an artifact of the nation's ancient electoral system. Advocates of a popular vote system have persuaded both houses of the California Legislature to adopt a measure that would lend California's support to that idea. Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.
In drafting the U.S. Constitution, the framers created a two-tiered system for electing presidents. States were allowed to set rules for selecting electors, and those electors then cast ballots for president. That reflected the framers' generally wary view of direct democracy — senators were originally chosen by state legislatures; women and slaves, of course, were denied the vote entirely — but in the years since, Americans have broadened the franchise and become more comfortable with direct popular participation. Still, vestiges of that original elitism remain, most notably in the perseverance of the electoral college.
Movig from a state-by-state system of electing presidents to choosing them by popular vote does not appreciably favor one party or the other. Yes, the most recent example of a president winning the office while losing the popular vote wasGeorge W. Bush in 2000. But had John Kerry carried a mere 60,000 additional votes in Ohio in 2004, he would have become president while losing the popular contest by more than 3 million. The reason, then, to award the presidency to the candidate who receives the most votes is not to advantageRepublicans or Democrats but to seat the candidates favored by the most voters.
To bring about this change, the California bill — like others across the country — would require the state to award its electors to whichever candidate wins the most votes nationally (rather than throwing them behind the one who wins the most votes in the state). Because the system would go into effect only when enough states agree to participate that they control a majority of electoral votes, that would guarantee the presidency to the winner of the popular vote. So far, eight states with 77 electoral votes — out of 270 needed to win — have signed on. California would add 55.
Americans today elect representatives at all levels of public life by popular vote, with the exception of the most important office of all. This plan would end that anomaly. It deserves to become law.
What do presidents Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and George W. Bush have in common? All were elected president even though their opponents received more votes. Each of those campaigns was thus a spectacular controversy, and after more than a century of such sporadic but unsettling political results, at last there is a real chance for change.
Bush's victory in 2000 over Al Gore is obviously the freshest and rawest of these electoral aberrations, which grow out of the nation's unusual presidential selection process. The founders believed in a mediated democracy and created a republic that would insulate elections from the rabble. Wary of investing the people (excluding women and slaves, of course) with too much power, skittish about the potential influence of political parties and debating in an era when the people of one state knew little about the leaders of others, the drafters of the Constitution settled on a two-tiered system of selecting presidents: States chose electors, and those electors in turn selected a president. As specified by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, each state was allowed to appoint electors equal to the number of congressional representatives it possessed. Actual voters had no role.
How the states chose those electors was left to them. Initially, that was done by legislatures, but as American notions of egalitarianism overcame some of the founders' reservations about trusting voters — and as communications united the states in ways unimaginable to those who wrote the original documents — the choosing of electors moved to the people. Today's presidential races still are two-tiered, but voters at least participate at the front end. In every state but two, where electors are allocated by congressional district, voters cast ballots for president and the candidate who wins the most votes wins all of the state's electors.
The trouble with winner-take-all rules can be seen in the results of two modern elections: The 2000 race, of course, saw the loser of the popular vote become president after winning a protracted squeaker in Florida. Four years later, Bush handily defeated John Kerry by 3 million votes, but had a mere 60,000 more Ohioans voted instead for Kerry, the nation would have experienced a mirror-image of 2000: Kerry would have won the election while losing the popular vote. That close call was possible, of course, because winning a state by one vote matters just as much as winning it by millions. It is a reminder that the current rules do not unequivocally favor either party, nor would changing them benefit one over the other.
What both sides recognize is the effect that winner-take-all rules have on campaigns. Candidates who are far ahead or far behind in a state have no reason to waste time on them. Barack Obama, for instance, was a prohibitive favorite to win California in 2008, so he spent neither time nor money here after the primaries. Similarly, John McCain knew he would lose this state, so he concentrated his efforts elsewhere. The result was typical: a national political campaign waged in a handful of battleground states such as Ohio and Florida.
There's an easy way and a hard way to address these problems. One would be to abolish the use of electors — known as the electoral college, though that phrase never appears in the Constitution. That's the hard way. It requires a constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by two-thirds of Congress and ratified by three-quarters of the states. But there's another approach: If enough states agree to vote their electors for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, then the popular contest can effectively be the binding one. In other words, if states that together control a majority of electoral votes all cast them for the winner of the popular vote, that guarantees that the election goes to the person with the most votes.
So far, eight states with a combined 77 electoral votes — 29% of the 270 needed to win — have passed laws to do just that. A bill with bipartisan support in the Legislature would add California, by far the biggest such prize with 55 electoral votes, to that roll. And it would go into effect only when enough states join to ensure the strategy's success, so there is no danger of any state tossing away its votes without them going to the popular vote winner. Twice before, similar bills have passed the Legislature, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them.
Proponents of the bill make an economic argument for it as well. As President Obama's recent trip to Los Angeles highlighted, this state provides much of the money that pays for modern politics. But because California is so solidly Democratic that its electoral votes are a foregone conclusion, neither party spends much money to get votes here. A national popular vote might infuse the state economy with some of the benefits of the national election: advertising, campaign staffs and offices, and the like.
That's all fine, but what should guide this debate is a recognition that our evolving electoral system has embraced increasingly democratic notions of how we pick our leaders. This bill represents the natural next step in that evolution, and would finally allow Americans to rest assured that the next president of the United States will be the candidate preferred by voters. The Legislature should pass the bill, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.
Thanks to the electoral college, the United States holds elections in which the candidate who wins the most votes doesn't always win the presidency. Voters in some states matter much more than others, so candidates are encouraged to ignore the concerns of the less important ones and focus on those who really make a difference. That, in turn, tends to lower turnout because many voters believe their input doesn't matter. Is this any way to run a democracy?
The answer might seem obvious to most Americans — in fact, polls have shown that large majorities in both parties favor reforming the presidential election system. But it's not so obvious to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in 2006 vetoed a bill that would have rendered the electoral college moot and awarded the presidency to the winner of the national majority vote. The same bill has once again made its way through the Legislature, offering Schwarzenegger the chance to do the right thing.
Four states — Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey — have already passed legislation proposed by National Popular Vote, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit founded by a Stanford professor who came up with a brilliant way to circumvent the electoral college. States simply have to agree to award their electoral votes to the winner of the majority vote nationwide. This would go into effect only if states controlling more than half the electoral votes sign on. If California, with 55 votes, were to join, it would give a big boost to the national movement.
The only way to do away with the electoral college entirely would be to amend the Constitution, which takes a two-thirds vote of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. There are enough swing states that benefit from the current system, such as Ohio and Florida, to derail any attempt at an amendment. Though the National Popular Vote idea offends constitutional purists, it in no way violates the Constitution, which allows states to allocate their electoral votes any way they wish.
Schwarzenegger's rationale for vetoing the popular-vote bill two years ago was that it disregarded "the will of a majority of Californians" because it could award the state's electoral votes to a candidate the state's voters didn't approve. That's a very odd argument. The state's choice of a candidate is irrelevant if its pick doesn't win elsewhere. Sidestepping the electoral college simply assures that the majority would rule in the presidential race, just as it does in every other election in this country except the one for its highest office. Moreover, it would force candidates to devote far more attention to California, and would enfranchise California Republicans, whose votes currently matter little in this overwhelmingly blue state.
The bill, SB 37 from Sen. Carole Midgen (D-San Francisco), would benefit the state and the nation. Schwarzenegger should sign it.
A PROPOSED EXPERIMENT with majority rule has generated plenty of naysayers who apparently think that some nations are simply too immature to let people directly choose their own leaders. But we say the United States is ready for real democracy.
The experiment is the National Popular Vote campaign, which intends to undermine the Constitution's anachronistic Electoral College. If the campaign succeeds, future presidents will take office only if they win the popular vote nationwide.
The ingenious scheme was developed by John R. Koza, a Stanford professor who also invented the scratch-off lottery ticket. It calls on state legislatures to pass a measure dictating that all the electoral votes from that state go to the winner of the national popular vote. It goes into effect only if enough states approve it to represent a majority of the electoral votes. In other words, if states that represent at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes all approve the measure, the winner of the popular vote nationwide would automatically win the presidency. It thus renders the Electoral College moot without eliminating it.
This kind of end run is necessary because the only way to get rid of the Electoral College entirely is via a constitutional amendment, which would be nearly impossible to pass. Enough small states benefit from the current system to block an amendment. The beauty of this approach is that each state is constitutionally allowed to allot its electoral votes as it sees fit. The measure was approved by California's Assembly on Tuesday and is pending in four other states; backers hope to get it before all 50 states by January.
Anyone wondering why he should care about the Electoral College need look no further than the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won the presidency despite getting about half a million fewer votes than Al Gore. If that makes conservatives think they should be thankful that the majority doesn't always rule in the United States, they should think again. The same thing nearly happened in reverse in 2004. If John Kerry had picked up a mere 60,000 more votes in Ohio, he would have won — even though Bush took in 3 million more votes overall.
The Electoral College doesn't skew just election results; it skews elections. Candidates know they don't have to campaign in states that either clearly favor them or clearly don't; they have to focus only on swing states. In the 2004 campaign, Bush and Kerry spent a great deal of time brushing up on agricultural policy and other issues of vital concern in Iowa, while ignoring matters important to people in states such as California, Texas and New York.
Opponents argue that the current system ensures that smaller states continue to have a say in setting national policy. But the U.S. Senate already gives Delaware every bit as much clout as California. Any method besides majority vote empowers some citizens at the expense of others and makes the president beholden to minority interests.
At its inception, the United States was, well, a union of states. But it is now one nation, and our president should be elected by the citizens of that nation, not by its constituent states. To argue otherwise is to say that some Americans should have more power to elect a president than others simply because of where they live. Remember, all men are created equal. Including Californians and New Yorkers.