Dear Californians, You Don't Matter

Well, at least when it comes to picking the next leader of the free world. In a previous post, I queried, "When it Comes to Presidential Politics, Does California Even Matter?" Democrats count on (take for granted) the Golden State and its 55 electoral votes--one-fifth of the total votes needed to win the presidency. Candidates visit our state to raise money, but not much else. Presidential campaigns are won and lost in the battle ground states. California is decidedly not such a state.

This week brought two presidential season events: first, the Iowa Straw polls, and second, California voted to in favor of the National Popular Vote plan.

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For more than two centuries Americans have used the Electoral College to pick presidents. However, there is now (yet another) move afoot to change that. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation supporting an interstate compact which would implement a new system whereby each state would award its electoral votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote. The new system would therefore mean that the candidate winning the most votes nationwide would be guaranteed to win the presidency.

Problem or smart policy?

Short answer: It depends. The new system would eviscerate the way presidential campaigns are currently waged, and move campaigns away from the swing states. Candidates would have to pay attention to voters in each state, and therefore would be held to answer based on issues facing all of the states. The winning candidate would also be the one with the most individual votes, a scenario that is not assured under the Electoral College. In fact four Presidents - the winners of the 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 elections - did not win the national popular vote.

On the other hand, the Electoral College does keep candidates' attention on small states and rural areas. In addition, under this system, California's 55 electoral votes could be awarded to a candidate who the majority of Californians do not support. That makes some more than a bit squeamish. This was Governor Schwarzenegger's main complaint about moving to a national popular vote.

The bill will not take effect unless states constituting a majority of the nation's electoral votes endorse the plan. In such a case, it would not matter what the other states do, the winner of the national popular vote would have enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Therefore, California's pledge of its 55 electoral votes has given the reform effort quite a bit of momentum. Proponents are about halfway there. Eight other states - including Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Illinois - and the District of Columbia have endorsed the compact.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user egp. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all method (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only the current handful of closely divided "battleground" states and their voters. There is no incentive for them to bother to care about the majority of states where they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead to win. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that, at most, only 14 states and their voters will matter. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. Almost 75% of the country will be ignored --including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections.

Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Idaho – 77%, Maine -- 77%, Montana – 72%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Oklahoma – 81%, Rhode Island -- 74%, South Dakota – 71%, Utah - 70%, Vermont -- 75%, and West Virginia – 81%, and Wyoming – 69%.

Nine state legislative chambers in the lowest population states have passed the National Popular Vote bill. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Vermont.

None of the 10 most rural states (VT, ME, WV, MS, SD, AR, MT, ND, AL, and KY) is a battleground state.
The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes does not enhance the influence of rural states, because the most rural states are not battleground states.

Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

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In a 2008 survey of 2,004 California adult residents interviewed from October 12-19, 2008, 70% of California residents and likely voters supported this change. Democrats (76%) and independents (74%) were more likely to support a change to direct popular vote than Republicans, but 61% of Republicans also supported this change. Among likely voters, support for this change was 6 points higher than in October 2004 (64%).

http://tinyurl.com/3glex8x

Come the end of voting on Election Day, most voters don't care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans consider the idea of the candidate with the most popular votes being declared a loser detestable. We don't allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

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What?!

California absolutely matters! California has 55 Electoral Votes to cast to elect the President of the United States! California routinely and regularly casts those votes for Democrats. With 55 Electoral Votes, California matters MORE than every OTHER State in the Union! That is a HUGE role of support to play for liberal, Democrat Party purposes! Democrats can count on that stability. WHY do you think that role has been somehow diminished? California elected Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -

Do you want MORE?

OR, is it that you are upset that more time and money is not spent in California by presidential campaigns on political consultant and advertising media firms?? Is THAT it?

This discussion about a "National Popular Vote" is hogwash and it will do NOTHING to make America stronger - although it WILL guarantee that more time and money is spent in California on political consultant and advertising media firms! That's for sure and that will be perpetual under the NPV.

But California has the ability RIGHT NOW to fix that without undermining for the rest of the country the necessary Checks and Balances designed into our Federal system: California, because it most often votes heavily for one political Party should simply have the Legislature decide to APPORTION the State's Electoral Votes.

The population does not have to give up its left-leaning liberal preference and that change alone will put many of California's Electoral Votes up for grabs! THAT will do more than anything to draw all the presidential campaigns into California - and California can make THAT happen in two weeks!

But it's not REALLY all about getting presidential campaigns to spend more time and money in California on political consultant and advertising media firms, is it? No, you want to KEEP those 55 Electoral Votes going to Democrats - Plus MORE! You want all those fly-over States' Electoral Votes to be cast the way California votes, too. Being the Largest State, the campaigns will not be able to leave California alone and MUST spend more time and money in California on political consultant and advertising media firms. AND, California will control not only 55 Electoral Votes but will be able to control as many 155 Electoral Votes!

THAT is what the NPV pipe dream is REALLY all about. Isn't it?

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Any state that enacts the proportional approach on its own would reduce its own influence. This was the most telling argument that caused Colorado voters to agree with Republican Governor Owens and to reject this proposal in November 2004 by a two-to-one margin.

If the proportional approach were implemented by a state, on its own,, it would have to allocate its electoral votes in whole numbers. If a current battleground state were to change its winner-take-all statute to a proportional method for awarding electoral votes, presidential candidates would pay less attention to that state because only one electoral vote would probably be at stake in the state.

If the whole-number proportional approach had been in use throughout the country in the nation’s closest recent presidential election (2000), it would not have awarded the most electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide. Instead, the result would have been a tie of 269–269 in the electoral vote, even though Al Gore led by 537,179 popular votes across the nation. The presidential election would have been thrown into Congress to decide and resulted in the election of the second-place candidate in terms of the national popular vote.

A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

It would penalize states, such as Montana, that have only one U.S. Representative even though it has almost three times more population than other small states with one congressman. It would penalize fast-growing states that do not receive any increase in their number of electoral votes until after the next federal census. It would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Utah, Oregon).

Moreover, the fractional proportional allocation approach does not assure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. In 2000, for example, it would have resulted in the election of the second-place candidate.

A national popular vote is the way to make every person's vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.