Proposed ballot measure would ask if California should join a national popular vote movement — but the state already did

Should California’s elected officials do everything in their power to make the country decide presidential elections by a national popular vote?

A recently-introduced ballot measure asks just that, coming on the heels of the second presidential election since 2000 where the candidate with the most votes lost in the Electoral College, which is mostly a winner-take-all system based on statewide popular vote.

But there’s one catch: California passed legislation in 2011 joining a national effort to scrap the current system in favor of the national popular vote, which CalWatchdog wrote about in February. 

Besides being largely redundant, the ballot measure would be merely advisory, with no force of law (the measure only asks if policy makers should do something; it doesn’t direct them to do anything). It’s similar in effect to Prop. 59 from the November ballot, which focused on campaign finance law

“My focus is less on exact means than on the goal,” said the measure’s proponent, Rod Howard, an attorney who specializes in mergers and acquisitions. “The interstate NPV compact is one approach, and an ingenious one. But it’s only one approach, and it does not yet have the force of law.”

Ten states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the interstate compact, totaling 165 electoral votes. The effort needs 105 more electoral votes to go into effect, theoretically. 

Other options

There are other options besides the interstate compact, although they are much more elusive. The states could amend the Constitution or call for a Constitutional Convention. But neither option is realistic, due to the two-thirds threshold of support, particularly following an election where the majority of states picked Republican Donald Trump, who won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote.

The state could pursue litigation, the measure argues, as well as a proportionate system, like those used in Maine and Nebraska, where electoral votes are allocated based on both the popular vote and success in congressional districts, instead of the winner-take-all system. 

Howard’s belief though is that more could and should be done to throw away the current system. The timing may be not be ideal though, as efforts to move to a national popular vote could be panned as partisan and reactionary against Trump (although that may fade by 2018). 

Public opinion

And Americans are souring on the idea. A Gallup poll taken in December showed 47 percent of Americans want to keep the Electoral College. And while that’s just shy of a majority, support has increased substantially since 2011, when only 35 percent said they supported the centuries-old institution. 


Here’s the measure’s language in its entirety: 

“Shall California’s elected officials use all of their federal and state constitutional and legal authority to cause the President and Vice President of the United States to be elected in a manner that follows (and, until then, more closely and more consistently follows) the outcome of the national popular vote for those offices, including, but not limited to, their authority to propose and ratify one or more amendments to the United States Constitution to eliminate or modify the Electoral College process, their authority to approve and adopt interstate compacts such as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and their authority to propose, adopt and pursue related legislation and litigation?”

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