February 23, 2006

"Former congressmen press changes in presidential elections"

The Chicago Tribune offers this report. It begins: "A coalition of former congressmen is launching a campaign to change how Americans select their president by reforming the Electoral College system, saying campaigns for the White House should be reliant on the nationwide popular vote rather than simply the outcome in a handful of swing states. The bipartisan group plans to announce its proposal Thursday and begin a state-by-state effort to amend the Electoral College so the winner reflects the view of the country instead of an individual state or two with a close vote on Election Day. The plan would seek to eliminate the possibility of a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election, as happened to former Vice President Al Gore in 2000." See also this press release:

    Washington, DC – Republicans, Democrats and Independents, including former Republican Representative and Independent presidential candidate John Anderson, joined together today to call for the national popular election of the President. They offered a novel approach which is politically practical because it relies on the Constitutional power given to states to allocate Presidential electors.

    “The occupant of the nation’s highest office should be determined by winning the national popular vote,” said Anderson, who today is chair of FairVote. “The current system of allocating electoral votes on a statewide winner-take-all basis dampens voter participation by concentrating campaign efforts on a shrinking number of battleground states and can have the disheartening effect of trumping the national popular vote.”

    Today marked the launch of efforts to introduce and pass bills in all 50 state legislatures that would award the states’ electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The National Popular Vote plan will go into effect when the number of states that have passed the law can determine the outcome of the Presidential election. Specifically, the group today:

    • Released Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote, a book which outlines the problems, the history and the fix for our electoral system. This book will be available through the national popular vote web site.
    • Announced the plan to introduce and pass legislation in all 50 states, including their first bipartisan legislative sponsors in Illinois.
    • Launched a grassroots effort, www.nationalpopularvote.com, where the public can not only learn about the efforts but participate in them by signing the petition and donating to the effort.
    • Soon, the campaign will launch tools that will allow citizens to contact the media and their elected officials from the website.

    With the release of the book, Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote, the authors make the case for changing the electoral system from the current state-by-state system to one that is tied to the national popular vote.

    The Every Vote Equal book lays out a practical solution that uses state powers the Founding built into the Constitution. It is a state-based solution to a problem that has been inadvertently created over the years by the nearly universal adoption by the states of the winner-take-all rule.

    The proposal is in the form of a state law that individual states may enact—one-by-one.

    At the present time, the Electoral College reflects the voters’ separate state-by-state choices for President or, in the case of Maine and Nebraska, the voter’s separate district-wide choices for President. The proposed new state law would change the Electoral College from an institution that reflects the voters’ state-by-state choices or district-wide choices into a body that reflects the voters’ nationwide choice.

    States would exercise the Constitution’s built-in flexibility to change the way that the Electoral College is chosen. These laws would not take effect anywhere until identical laws have been enacted in enough states to assure that the nationwide popular vote winner will get enough electoral votes to be guaranteed election to the Presidency. The proposed state law is called the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.”

    “The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, described the American political system as ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people,’” said former Congressman John B. Buchanan (R-AL). “Denying the American people the right to determine who the President is through the popular vote is a flaw in our system and one that needs fixing.”

    As identified in the book, the current system for electing the President and Vice President of the United States has three major shortcomings:

    • Voters are effectively disenfranchised in two-thirds of the States in Presidential elections because Presidential campaigns are not contested in most states.
    • The current system does not reliably reflect the nationwide popular vote.
    • Every vote is not equal because the more tightly contested a state is, the more weight the vote has in the outcome of the election.

    “The shortcomings of the current system have been created by the near universal adoption by the states of the winner-take-all rule under which the presidential candidate getting the most votes in each state gets all of that state’s electoral votes,” said former Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN). “The people know that there is a problem. Since 1944, polls have shown that seventy percent of the public favors the nationwide popular election of the President, a system that will make all states competitive, guarantees that the candidate with the most popular votes nationwide wins the Presidency, and makes every vote equal.”

    “Reforming the system for electing the President would go a long way toward reestablishing the trust of the public in our political institutions,” said Chellie Pingree, President of Common Cause. “As a result of the closeness of the last five presidential elections, the media has focused public attention on the mechanics of the Electoral College. The public has come to understand the notion of reliably red states, reliably blue states, and closely divided battleground states. Voters have come to realize that peoples’ votes simply do not matter in two thirds of the states. Voter turnout is diminished in the non-competitive states.”

    The book also points out that, under the current system, the nation’s least populous states are disadvantaged by the statewide winner-take-all rule to a considerably greater degree than the other states:

    •92% (12 of the 13) of the smallest states are non-competitive. Six of them regularly go Republican and six regularly go Democratic, while New Hampshire being the only competitive small state.
    • The 13 smallest states have a combined population of 11.4 million and, coincidentally, Ohio has 11.4 people. The battleground state of Ohio (with its 20 electoral votes) is very important in presidential elections, while the 12 non-competitive small states (with their 40 electoral votes) are irrelevant.
    • There was not one visit by any major-party presidential or vice-presidential candidate to the 12 small non-competitive states.
    • Virtually none of the $237,000,000 was spent in these small states.
    • The winner-take-all rule makes the 11 million people in Ohio very important in presidential races, while making the 11 million people in the nation’s 12 small non-competitive states irrelevant

    The book and further background information are available at the nationalpopularvote.com website.

    Illinois SB 2724, a legislative bill to implement the National Popular Vote’s plan, was introduced by State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D), has chief co-sponsor State Senator (and DuPage County Republican Chair) Kirk W. Dillard (R), and has additional sponsorship from State Senators James T. Meeks (Independent), Mattie Hunter (D), Don Harmon (D), and Iris Y. Martinez (D).

    National Popular Vote Inc. is a 501(c)(4) non profit corporation whose web site is www.NationalPopularVote.com. The web site contains the prepared remarks of the press conference, frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the plan, a short summary of the plan, text of the plan, and the group’s press release.

Posted by Rick Hasen at February 23, 2006 08:47 AM