CA GOP stays neutral on new electoral-college initiative

CA GOP stays neutral on new electoral-college initiative


My Vote CountsAn initiative seeking to get on California’s November ballot likely would add 20 or more Electoral College votes to the Republican candidate’s tally in the 2016 presidential election. That’s more Electoral College votes than the battleground state of Ohio by itself — or the battleground states of Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire combined.

But California Republican Party officials are neutral on the initiative, saying it needs to be presented to its Initiative Committee before they can consider it. State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte has actually supported a competing national electoral reform effort that passed the California Legislature in 2011, despite Republican opposition, and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sound of crickets

“It sort of explains the crickets I hear when I try and talk about it there with the Republican Party,” said Doug Nickle, president of Make California Count, in reference to Brulte. “But I don’t know if he’s representative of the whole Republican Party.”

The Make Our Vote Count Act would apportion California’s Electoral College votes based on the percentage of popular votes the presidential candidates receive in California.

Currently California, like 47 other states, is winner take all. It has given all 55 of its Electoral College votes – 20 percent of the 270 votes needed to win the presidency – to the Democratic candidate in the last six presidential elections.

In the last two presidential elections, Republican candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain each received 37 percent of California’s popular vote. As a result,  each would have received 20 of California’s 55 Electoral College votes had the Make Our Vote Count Act been in effect. President Obama’s electoral vote tally would have dropped to 35 from 55.

In the last five presidential elections, the Republican candidates have received an average of 39.4 percent of California’s popular vote, equating to 22 Electoral College votes on average.

Extra 20-22 electoral votes for Republican

That would not have changed the outcome of any of those elections. But providing the Republican candidate with an extra 20-22 Electoral College votes in a close 2016 election could put him or her over the top.

Nickle discussed his initiative on March 23 with KNEWS talk show host Elise Richmond and her husband, Bob, on her Conservatively Speaking show.

“Quite frankly, right now there’s not a great deal of difference between establishment Democrats or establishment Republicans,” said Nickle. “The fact that they are establishment means that they tend to like the status quo. And that they have these backroom agreements about picking their own winners and losers to preserve their own little fiefdoms. The losers are ultimately we the voters.

“We want to reform the Electoral College to promote fairness, empower and enfranchise all the voters, increase turnout and essentially represent the will of we the people. Because for so long we have accepted that we are not even doing an exercise in democracy when we go to the ballot box. In the last election, 40 percent of the electorate didn’t even have its voice represented. That’s equivalent to not even showing up. The reality right now is that you can ‘call’ California. And that’s not democracy.”

Brulte ‘not hot’ on initiative

Bob Richmond asked Nickle about Brulte’s response to the initiative.

“I kind of assumed, unfortunately perhaps naively, that he would understand that this is something that is a powerful effort for Republicans, but certainly the voters in general,” said Nickle. “I won’t speak for him. I can only tell you that he wasn’t particularly hot on the idea. And it took me a long time to figure out that he has to stay neutral on the issue. And I didn’t understand what he meant by being neutral. Because as a party leader it seems like neutrality is probably the last thing that would be the hallmark. …”

Elise Richmond interjected with a laugh, “You’d think, wouldn’t ya?”

“I would think,” responded Nickle. “But again, I’m not a party guy, so I don’t know how that works.”

Must go to GOP committee first

California Republican Party Communications Director Mark Standriff said in a phone interview, “We don’t have a position on the initiative because I don’t believe it’s ever come up. For the party to have a position on it, it has to go through the initiative committee. During the last couple of years nothing has made it through committee. So there’s no official position on it whatsoever. The party remains neutral on it.

“Typically, these kind of things when they start gathering signatures will make a formal request to our initiative committee. They haven’t even asked to take the matter up. They can either recommend to support it, oppose it, or take no position. Then it goes to the general session during our convention. The next one wouldn’t be until September in Los Angeles. It would be premature for any of us to say whether or not the majority of our delegates would vote to support or oppose.”

Bob Richmond criticized Brulte for writing the forward to a book put out by a competing electoral reform movement, the National Popular Vote bill. Its aim is to give all of California’s Electoral College votes (along with those in a consortium of states totaling at least 270 Electoral College votes) to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States.

“That’s one of the bad things, that we have a chairman of the California Republic Party who is a paid lobbyist for National Popular Vote,” said Richmond. “And because of that he is excluding this petition from the rest of the state, and pretty much delaying it, boycotting and saying he has to stay neutral. When he should be the one who is leading the charge for this petition. But because of his acceptance of money, he can’t do that.”

Standriff responded that Richmond is incorrect about Brulte being a lobbyist for National Popular Vote. “I don’t believe he’s ever been a lobbyist ever,” he said.

Brulte backs competing reform effort

Brulte’s forward to the book, and the National Popular Vote website, make similar arguments to those made by Nickle: that they want to put California in play in the national election, rather than simply being a glorified ATM machine for advertising dollars that are mostly spent in battleground states.

“California voters recently joined other states in stripping the state legislature of its power to draw legislative and congressional districts and allowing a citizen’s commission to redraw these lines,” wrote Brulte. “Voters did this in part because they knew that with politicians creating safe legislative seats, competition would be diminished, and as a result politicians of both major parties could ignore their communities with impunity.

“Unfortunately, our nation’s Electoral College provides on the national level what many citizens are trying to eliminate on our state level. Most states in the union are not in play in presidential elections. … For example, in 2008, after both parties chose their presidential candidates, all 300 of the campaign events with major-party nominees took place in just 19 states. And from September 24, two days before the first general election debate until election day, 99.74% of all advertising took place in just 18 states. While this might be great for the states involved, the rest of the nation suffers as candidates of both major political parties ignore them during the general election.

“The National Popular Vote provides the necessary incentives to encourage presidential candidates of both major parties to campaign in every state in the union. This is better than the current approach for electing the President. It is better for the candidates, it is better for the citizens of the individual states, and it is better for the nation as a whole.”

Democrats and Brulte agree

Similar arguments were made by Democratic legislators in support of AB 459, authored by then-Assemblyman (and current state Sen.) Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. Republicans were mostly opposed, although the only one to speak against it was then-state Sen. (and current U.S. Rep.) Doug La Malfa.

“I believe this is going to be a magnet for voter fraud in California and the U.S.,” said La Malfa on the Senate floor July 14, 2011. “I think this is dangerous. It flies in the face of 220 years of election law in the United States for deciding a president. There’s really nothing to be gained for California. California will still be a blue state. To think that we’re going to see more [campaign] resources and effort in California, which will still just be an ATM state for presidential candidates, I think is a misguided way of thinking.”

Nickle also argued against it in his radio interview.

“ ‘National popular vote’ sounds really nice and democratic, right? One man, one vote,” he said. “But it’s really not. It’s in fact far more exclusionary. And it’s essentially what we have with winner take all in California. Here in California, you could have 50.1 percent of the population vote and 100 percent of the Electoral College vote go to that candidate. That’s actually what the national popular vote folks are asking for. So in reality they are excluding 49.9 percent of the population potentially.

“Where that becomes even more dicey, a national popular vote would turn battleground states into battleground cities. It would go to the major metropolitan areas that have the highest concentration of wealth. And pretty soon you have cities buying elections. Where their vote breaks down is the fact that whereas we want an inclusive democracy that allows for a third-party candidate, if you start adding in a third or fourth candidate under the national popular vote, you start diluting the percentage that it would take. And you could very easily start whittling down the election for our president to thresholds below 25 percent of the actual voters.

“That can’t happen under proportional allocation, but it sure could under popular vote. I have a healthy bias for my issue. But the reality is that what they are promoting is actually not democratic.”

State stays winner-take-all for now

Although Hill’s national popular vote bill was passed by the state Legislature, California will remain a winner-take-all state until enough other states join the national popular vote pact to put the total over 270 Electoral College votes. It’s currently halfway there with nine states and the District of Columbia totaling 136 Electoral College votes signed on.

California’s participation in that pact likely would be overridden if the Make Our Vote Count initiative reaches the ballot and is approved by voters. Nickle’s organization is seeking donations to gather about 830,000 signatures by the end of this month to ensure that at least 505,000 are valid.

“We need all the help we can get,” said Nickle. “The world is run by the people who show up.”

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