Unfortunately in the mind of the political parties most of those states were already colored in with permanent ink, in some cases decades ago. Already for 2012 the map is mostly drawn:
- The Cook Political Report lists Colorado, Florida,Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin as the only battleground states.
- Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call says Colorado, Nevada, Virgina, North Carolina, Iowa and Ohio will be the decision makers.
- Larry Sabato of The Crystal Ball picks eight states to be the ones to pay attention to: Nevada Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virgina, and North Carolina.
As for California it is presumed certain that our role will again be compared to an ATM that the candidates swing by to get some cash before heading out to the ‘important places’. However, that may change. On Aug 8th, Governor Brown signed a bill joining California as the ninth state in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. What the compact says is that as soon as there are enough member states whose Electoral College votes total at least the amount needed to win (270) then those states’ laws will change to have their electors be assigned to whoever wins the national popular vote. “The Map” will become irrelevant and a voter in one state will be no more or less important than a voter anyplace else. The Electoral College would still exist as an institution, meet and cast votes, but a majority of electors would vote for whoever won the national popular vote, making the popular vote the only thing that matters.
California’s 55 electoral college votes brings the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to just under halfway to the 270 threshold. Several other states have bills pending in this legislative session, but it seems unlikely that enough will pass in time for the 2012 election.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact might seem like a complex approach compared to amending the constitution, but after many other failed attempts at a constitutional amendment it would appear to have the only chance of ever being passed.
During the drafting of the Constitution James Wilson and James Madison among others had advocated for a national popular vote for the presidency. This ran into problems with the south. In order to get the same influence in the selection of the presidency as they had negotiated with their 3/5th inclusion of slaves in the apportionment of the House of Representatives, they would have to allow slaves to vote. So instead, the ‘Virginia Plan’ had the president elected by the Legislature. There was then concern that this would make the president too indebted to the specific legislators who voted for him. The solution reached was to form a separate body of exactly the same representation, the Electoral College.
The drafters of the Constitution expected that the Electors would be selected by districts and that they would be able to exercise individual judgement when voting. They did not foresee the growth of national political parties or winner-take-all assignments. They knew that the original Electoral College would certainly pick George Washington. But beyond that they felt that a national consensus would be rare and the selection of the president would typically occur in the House of Representatives.
Nearly every congress has had at least one proposal to amend the Constitution to have a popular vote for the president. Most have died in committee. The one that came closest to passing was the Bayh-Cellar Amendment following the 1968 Election. It passed the House 339-70 but was successfully filibustered in the Senate by a collection of small and southern states. Even if it had not been filibustered, the same small and southern states would have likely prevented ratification. That combination of the filibuster and ratification by a supermajority of states is what keeps the constitutional amendment route unlikely. By comparison the interstate compact method only requires states with a majority in the Electoral College. That’s a much lower bar.
The biggest risk to the Interstate Compact is that it will get perceived as a ‘red vs. blue’ issue rather than a ‘non-battleground state vs battleground state’ issue. In the current political climate, the most typical scenarios for a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election would involve the Democratic Candidate being the one getting shorted in the Electoral College. But the real issue is candidate attention. As an example, you may remember that in the height of the 2000 election Californians were being pummeled with high electricity prices and the threat of brownouts by an energy market that was, as we would later learn, being artificially manipulated. Do you recall how the presidential candidates changed their schedules to come out here and address what was happening? No you don’t recall them doing that because they didn’t. A voter complaining about a pothole in a swing state got more attention than a crisis in the Western States Power Grid.
In addition to having voters everywhere get equal attention late in the game, having the national popular vote be the criteria for selecting the president will cause states to become focused on increasing turnout. Under the electoral college system, state politicians can take actions to discourage turnout and still get their full allocation of electors.
The TV networks, out of courtesy, will leave California blank until the polls close, but we are already written off as a done deal. We have been written off for decades, and so have voters in all but a handful of states. That is but a parody of equal representation, and it needs to change.