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In our view, April 17: Equal Voting

// Published April 17, 2009 in Columbian

Editorial in the Columbian in favor of the national popular vote plan, which is likely to be passed into law soon in the state of Washington.

Washington will become the fifth state to join an interstate compact that would essentially bypass the Electoral College and assure the leading national vote-getter of winning presidential elections. The state House on Wednesday night approved the measure by a 52-42 vote. The Senate had approved the bill earlier, and Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign it soon.

The national popular vote bill was approved in both chambers largely by Democrats. Clark County Democratic legislators supported the reform while local Republican lawmakers opposed it.

This effort in our state will add momentum to the national movement to bypass the Electoral College, which four times in our nation's history (most recently in 2000, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore) has allowed a candidate who did not win the national popular vote to become president.

As we have editorialized often, this is undemocratic and un-American. Only one public election in the nation allows the possibility of the leading vote-getter to losing, and it's not some local race for dogcatcher. It's the most vital decision Americans make, to select the most powerful person in the world.

Abolishing the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment; it's supported by Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution. But in this case a more direct reform is needed, and here's how the interstate compact would work: It would only take effect when adopted by enough states to form 270 electoral votes (the minimum to win the presidency), at which time all electors from those states would agree to vote for the national popular winner.

Voters (the ones who matter most) make their voices heard in November, and electors vote in December. Last year, Jane Buchanan-Banks of Felida was one of Washington's 11 electors, all of whom voted for Barack Obama.
He, of course, was the national winner, but what those 11 electors did at that Dec. 15 meeting in Olympia should make all Republicans absolutely livid. On that day, the 1.2 million Washingtonians who voted for John McCain instantly became meaningless. It was as if they had never voted.

Ironically, it is Republican lawmakers in Olympia who opposed efforts to repair this abominable system, generally because they believe the Founding
Fathers knew best how to elect a president. Also ironically, it is Republicans who often scream loudest about counting every vote and making sure every vote counts equally, yet the Electoral College threatens those noble concepts. And here's a scenario that should especially outrage Republicans:
Had George W. Bush not won Ohio in 2004 (it was a close race there), he would have lost to John Kerry despite receiving 3 million more votes … because of the Electoral College.

Washingtonians largely support this common-sense reform. Four months ago, a statewide poll of 800 voters by the national firm Public Policy Polling showed that 77 percent wanted the leading vote-getter to win the presidency; among Democrats, there was 85 percent support, and among Republicans it was 68 percent.

When Washington becomes the fifth state to join the compact, it will give the movement 23 percent of the needed electoral votes. Similar efforts are under way in several other states. For the sake of every vote counting equally in America's most vital election, we hope those efforts move forward.