Short answer: Not much. California has more electoral votes than any other state in the nation. That's right. We're number one. Once you win California's 55 electoral votes, you have one-fifth of the votes you need to work out of the Oval Office.
But really, who cares? Your vote doesn't really count in the Presidential general election. At least that is what those supporting Assembly Bill 459 are saying. AB 459 is a new bill that would ratify an interstate agreement that requires states to award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. AB 459 would, therefore, essentially eviscerate the Electoral College and dramatically change presidential campaigns.
The interstate compact would be become effective only if states possessing a majority of the total number of electoral votes ratify it. As of last month, seven states and the District of Columbia have ratified the compact. Those jurisdictions account for just shy of 30% of the total electoral votes needed, 270, for the agreement to be ratified.
As it stands, in 48 of 50 states, members of the electorate cast their ballot for their preferred presidential candidate. Then the candidate who obtains the most votes in the states gets all of that state's electoral votes. (In Nebraska and Maine electoral votes are apportioned by congressional district).
While one might think that California would be a sought-after prize, for the last two decades our state has leaned very predictably democratic, at least when it comes to selecting presidential candidates. If California's electoral votes went to a Republican in the near future, it would leave political pundits everywhere gasping for air (and airtime).
A new system could be a welcome change from our current winner-take-all system. Those of you who remember the protracted battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000 know that a candidate can win the national popular vote and lose the presidency. In addition, as discussed above, candidates ignore California for just about everything but money. Candidates would be forced to come and fight for California and other "safe" states.
This proposal has the advantage of not requiring a constitutional amendment because the idea of electoral votes would remain. Those votes would just be allocated according to a different formula.
There are, of course, also disadvantages to the program. Candidates could ignore rural, sparsely populate areas. Some, including former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, don't like the idea that a state's electoral votes could go to a candidate who the majority of the voters in the state did not support.
Another option would be to follow Maine and Nebraska's lead, handing out electoral votes district by district. Democrats tend not to like this idea because it would mean the state would not lean predictably for the Democratic presidential candidate.
If California is important at all this presidential cycle, it is because the Golden States is seen as a cash cow. Our state is often described as a candidate's ATM. Between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, there are many willing and able donors in our state. For that reason, California wields at least some indirect influence over candidates, as contributors give vast sums for candidates who then use that money in the so-called "swing states."
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School and the Director of Political Reform at a non-profit, non-partisan think tank.
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