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A National Popular Vote for President Would Make a Vote in Hawaii as Important as a Vote in New Hampshire or Ohio

Christopher Pearson // Published April 7, 2008 in Hawaii Reporter
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states. The bill recently passed out of committee in both the Hawaii House and Senate, and has been signed into law in Maryland and New Jersey. It has passed 13 additional legislative chambers: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, and, most recently, the State Senate in my own state, Vermont.

Under the current rules, candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, or campaign in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Candidates spend two-thirds of the visits and money in just six closely divided battleground states, and 99% of their money in just 16 states. Hawaii (like two-thirds of the states) is a mere spectator in the presidential election. Your issues, opinions and concerns are not on a presidential candidate’s radar screen.

In the 2004 election, the candidates spent just $390,000 in Hawaii, compared with $4,600,000 in New Hampshire – a state with about the same number of people. Candidates visited Hawaii once, but New Hampshire 6 times. By contrast, candidates visited Ohio more than 45 times. It’s not because Ohio has more people – Texas and California had just two visits between them. Campaigns put a priority on battleground states, the rest of us are taken for granted.

Hawaii would increase its clout in presidential elections if the candidate with the most votes in all 50 states were guaranteed the Presidency. Both the Democrats and Republicans would solicit Hawaii in order to win every possible vote in the state. The National Popular Vote bill would make a vote in Hawaii as important as a vote in New Hampshire or Ohio.

The old notion that the current system works well for small states is a mathematical argument, it doesn’t have anything to do with real influence in the election. Consider that the 13 smallest states together contain 11 million people. Only New Hampshire is a battleground state, while the other 12 small states are ignored. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive smallest states have 40 electoral votes. Coincidentally, Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive, small states are irrelevant.

Nationwide election of the President would also mean that the candidate who earns the most votes in the country is guaranteed to win. A second-place candidate won in 1 out of 14 elections, most recently in 2000.

A shift of a handful of votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in five of the last 12 presidential elections. For example, a shift of 60,000 votes would have elected Kerry in 2004, even though President Bush was ahead by 3,500,000 votes nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill would only go into effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral college (that is, 270 of the 538). Under the National Popular Vote legislation, the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states would be guaranteed enough electoral votes to be elected President.

I hope Hawaii will join other small states like my own and support a better system to elect our President. Every vote should be equal, should matter, and the candidate with the most votes should win. Passing the National Popular Vote will add Hawaii to this important change, please encourage your State Representatives and Senators to support the bill.

Rep. Christopher Pearson serves in the Vermont House of Representatives.