Obama-McCain contest: Should winner of popular vote always win the White House?
National Popular Vote initiative would change how states cast Electoral College votes.
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So far, four states – Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland – with 50 combined electoral votes have enacted bills that would give their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. Similar legislation has passed one or both houses in more than a dozen other states.Skip to next paragraph
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Once states with at least 270 combined electoral votes (the minimum needed for electing a president) enact legislation, the change would go into effect, since the winner in the Electoral College would also have to have a popular vote majority.
Koza, a computer scientist who co-invented the rub-off instant lottery ticket used by state lotteries, is a consulting professor at Stanford University. But the drive to secure a national popular vote takes most of his time.
A Constitutional ‘end run’
Because his organization is not seeking a constitutional amendment, opponents have charged that the effort is trying to sneak through a loophole.
“It’s basically an end run around the Constitution,” says Michael Hough, a spokesman for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of conservative state legislators that opposes the idea. “The appropriate way would be to actually amend the Constitution,” Mr. Hough says. “But they know that they can’t do that because they wouldn’t have the popular support, they wouldn’t be able to get it through [Congress].”
Scholars agree with Koza that the Constitution does give states power to decide how they choose to cast their electoral votes. Today’s winner-takes-all approach in each state was not mandated by the Founding Fathers, but evolved as a matter of political expediency in the mid-19th century. But Hough argues such an effort overrides important states’ rights. “It goes against the Founders’ intent,” he says.
“They came up with the Electoral College because they wanted states to have an important role in the elections.”
The Electoral College gives states with small populations a slightly bigger say than their number of potential voters, since every state starts with two electoral votes (just as every state has two senators). “By going to a national vote, you’re drastically changing the way we do elections in this country,” he says.
In 1979, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, considered one of the most erudite members of Congress at the time, called the idea of abolishing the Electoral College “the most radical transformation in our political system that has ever been considered.”
Close race anticipated
This fall’s election will give voters a fresh chance to see the current system – and, in Koza’s eyes, its flaws – in action. If the race is close, as is expected by many, the popular vote and Electoral College could once again yield different results.