California Could Kill Electoral College

MAY 19, 2011


Democrats are pushing a bill that, opponents say, could devastate the Republican Party in California. Yet several Republicans have signed on to the cause.

The stated intent of the bill, AB 459, is to give California more impact in presidential campaigns. California is the country’s most populous state. Yet it was was largely ignored in the last two presidential elections because, for two decades, Democrats easily have won presidential elections here.

President Obama won California by more than 3 million votes over John McCain. With Democratic victories guaranteed, there’s no point in campaigning here for votes, although candidates still come here to grab contributions for their campaigns.

Under the U.S. Constitution, “electors” are chosen from each state according to the sum of its members of the U.S. House of Representatives and two senators. Thus, California currently has 55 electoral votes, while small Wyoming has three.

The Constitution stipulates that each state Legislature decides the method by which the electors are chosen. Most states, including California, currently stipulate that whichever presidential candidate wins the most votes in that state gets all that state’s electoral votes.

AB 459 is part the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.” The compact has two parts. First, it would go into effect only if it is enacted by enough states that, combined, their electoral votes equal 270 or more (which is more than half the total of 538 electoral votes).

Second, in those states that have passed National Popular Vote, whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote would win all the electoral votes in all the states that are part of the National Popular Vote compact.

According to Wikipedia, “As of April 2011, this interstate compact has been joined by Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia; their 77 electoral votes amount to 28.5% of the 270 needed for the compact to take effect.” Those states and D.C. all lean Democratic. So far, no Republican-leaning state has passed the reform.

If California joined the compact, the number of electoral votes in the compact would rise from 77 to 132.

The National Popular Vote website says that 2,110 state legislators from across the country have endorsed the change.

AB 459 was authored by Democratic Assemblyman Jerry Hill (San Mateo) with the support of Republican Assemblyman Brian Nestande (Palm Desert) and Republican Senators Tony Strickland (Thousand Oaks) and Mimi Walters (Laguna Miguel).

California Bill

Supporters of AB 459 insist that changing the Electoral College to a popular vote would require candidates to actually campaign in all states, and not just in swing states.

But opponents say that those backing National Popular Vote have a bigger agenda in mind: Eventually eliminating the Electoral College altogether. Once Americans are used to thinking of the election more as a vast popular vote, then the National Popular Vote Compact itself would be displaced in favor a constitutional amendment junking the Electoral College.

If that happened then, even more than under the National Popular Vote Compact, presidential candidates would look only at the large population areas in the country for votes: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and San Francisco. Rural states, such as Wyoming and North Dakota, would be ignored. The federalist nature of the country, which consists of “free and independent states,” would be fatally compromised.

Republican Opposition

Nationally, most conservatives and Republican Party leaders are adamantly opposed to the popular vote reform. But this is not a new issue. Talk of amending the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College with the popular vote has been going on for years because liberals believe that they can turn out more voters in vote-rich big cities.

But Republicans and conservatives have respected states’ rights, and support maintaining electing presidents in the way crafted by the Founding Fathers.

California’s GOP National Committeeman Shawn Steel describes the National Popular Vote as “a liberal attempt to end-run the Constitution.”

California State GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro has also been outspoken in opposition to the change, and recently explained, “With Los Angeles County as large as 42 states in terms of population, Democrats would simply have to pour money and workers in there to drive up their popular vote.  When they do the same in New York or Chicago or San Francisco, and this ‘compact’ of the states on electoral votes is law, you could easily have a Democratic ‘lock’ on the presidency.”

The Al Gore Factor

The National Popular Vote campaign is the creation of a San Francisco-based Democrat, John Koza, a supporter of Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential race. That was the last race in which one candidate, Gore, won the overall U.S. popular vote, yet lost the race because his opponent, George W. Bush, won in the electoral college.

Previous attempts to end the Electoral College have been approached on the national scale, involving the cumbersome process of amending the Constitution.

The National Popular Vote reform takes a different tack. By working through the individual states, its move toward a popular vote would probably survive a court challenge, according to constitutional law experts.

The Congressional District Method

Opponents to National Popular Vote say that a much better idea would be what’s called the Congressional District Method. Under it, instead of the current “winner takes all” method, electoral votes are divvied up on the basis of how each individual state votes. Each presidential candidate gets a fraction of the vote, depending on how well he does in that state. It’s also called the Maine-Nebraska Method, because those are the only two states that currently use this method.

Under this method for California, if the Democrat won 57 percent of the state’s votes, he would get 57 percent of the California electoral votes — 31 electoral votes. And if the Republican got 43 percent of the electoral votes, he would get 43 percent of the California electoral votes — 24 electoral votes.

That would give Presidential candidates a strong incentive to actively campaign in this state and consider our interests. But Democrats aren’t keen on the idea because, as mentioned, they currently have a lock on all 55 electoral votes.

Would Republicans Come Here?

Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue (Linda) and other opponent to the National Popular Vote spoke to me this week refuting the argument that it would cause Republican presidential candidates to campaign and invest in California. “Projections are that they would invest upwards of $30 Million. However, Democrats would be more inclined to invest in Democrat vote-rich California with projected spending exceeding $150 Million,” Logue said.

Other Republicans opposed to the measure are concerned about the organizations and persons supporting the movement: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 
Common Cause, Fair Vote, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and a veritable “Who’s Who” list of the liberal establishment.

Logue said that, while not one strong Republican state has passed National Popular Vote, the organization is targeting some well-respected Republican leaders and former legislators to advance their campaign, and has even hired several to work for the campaign.

“I believe National Popular Vote will devastate Republican prospects in California,” said Logue.

Opponents are concerned that the National Popular Vote movement provides no process for conducting a nationwide recount if the popular vote is close.  The absence of a nationwide recount would generate substantial popular doubt about the legitimacy of the supposed winner.


Democrat Presidential candidates would benefit since the Democrat party base is located in large states like California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.   These six states, combined, contain nearly 33 percent of the population of the United States and each state has voted at least five straight times for the Democratic presidential candidate.

AB 459 has been amended twice, and has been ordered to a third reading, after making it through two Assembly committees. Previous attempts to pass a National Popular Vote bill — AB 2948 (Umberg) of 2006, and SB 37 (Migden) of 2008 (identical to AB 459) — were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his veto message to SB 37, he wrote:

As I stated in vetoing similar legislation in 2006, I believe strongly in democracy and in honoring the will of the people. This bill represents a significant departure away from letting each individual state choose how to award its presidential electoral votes and towards a national vote for president. Because California’s endorsement of a national popular vote would significantly change the debate on the matter, enactment of this bill would represent a major shift in the way not only Californians but all Americans choose their president. Such a significant change should be voted on by the people. As such, I cannot support this measure but encourage the proponents to seek approval of the people for the changes it proposes.

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