Fairvote.org is currently undergoing an upgrade, and some features may not be working as usual. We apologize for any inconvenience, and expect to be back at full capacity soon.

Choose President by National Popular Vote

Ellen Fiedler Estes // Published December 21, 2008 in Wichita Eagle
You may have thought that you voted for either Barack Obama or John McCain, but you didn't. In Kansas, you voted for a group of six people chosen by their state party leaders who represent the Electoral College. That number is derived from the six people who represent us in Congress. Last week's ceremonial meeting of the Electoral College across the state capitals provided a good reminder of the shortcomings of the current system.

Currently, two-thirds of the states are ignored by the presidential campaign, turnout is depressed in states like ours, and not every vote is equal. Kansas usually votes for the Republican candidate for president. Those who vote for the Democratic candidate have to know that their votes are virtually worthless in Kansas.

According to data by electoral research group FairVote, 98 percent of the campaign events and money were spent in just 15 battleground states in the two months before the past election, with 57 percent devoted to just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Voter turnout in the "battleground" states was 67 percent, while turnout in the "spectator" states was 61 percent.

There is a simple remedy to the shortcomings of the current system: The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia should win the presidency.

Legislation for a national popular vote has been enacted by states possessing 50 electoral votes -- 19 percent of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect. The four states are Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey. The bill has passed 21 state legislatures. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has refused to sign the bill passed by that state's legislature.

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole spoke to the U.S. Senate on Jan. 14, 1979, in support of direct election of the president and vice president. However, the bill has not passed either chamber of the Kansas Legislature.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20 percent of the public has supported the system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70 percent supporting a national popular vote and about 10 percent undecided). A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows 72 percent support for direct nationwide election of the president.

The U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive and plenary control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes. The winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was not the founders' choice (having been used by only three states in the nation's first presidential election). Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district.

Not every vote is equal, and that is why we need the national popular vote. The League of Women Voters United States has a position supporting the elimination of the Electoral College. We are currently studying the national popular vote as a viable alternative. If the Electoral College is such a great method, why haven't more countries adopted it?

Where in the definition of democracy does it state that we are not allowed to vote directly for our president? The six Kansans who were given the honor to vote last week don't know how lucky they are.

Ellen Fiedler Estes is co-president of the League of Women Voters Wichita-Metro.