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National Popular Vote Plan Passes California Senate Committee

by Scott Epstein // Published June 28, 2006
This is the eighth in a series of blog posts written by FairVote interns.

This afternoon, the California Senate Committee on Elections, Reapportionment, and Constitutional Amendments approved legislation to implement the National Popular Vote plan. Members of the committee voted 3-1 in favor of the bill. The bill heads next to the Senate Appropriations committee where it will likely be approved, and then finally to the floor of the Senate.

The California Assembly has already passed the bill. If the California Senate passes the bill, and Governor Schwarzenegger signs it, California would be the first state to enter into an interstate compact, under which the states would agree to award their Electoral College votes to the candidate that wins the most votes nationwide. The contract would go into effect when enough states have signed on so that they represent a majority of Electoral College votes.

The committee vote is the latest victory for the National Popular Vote campaign, which was launched in February. Identical legislation passed the Colorado Senate, was approved by the Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee, and has been introduced in New York, Missouri, and Illinois. 2007 sponsors have been announced in Vermont and Arizona. The innovative plan has been endorsed by a number of prominent newspapers including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Sun Times.

Under our current winner-take-all Electoral College system, presidential candidates campaign only in a handful of closely divided states - the so-called swing states or battleground states. FairVote"s report on the Shrinking Battleground shows that the number of competitive states has greatly decreased over time. That means that in the United State"s bizarre winner-take-all system, fewer people have the opportunity to cast a meaningful vote. If you"re lucky enough to live in Florida (or unlucky enough if you don"t like campaign commercials), your one vote might decide the entire election. If you live in a solidly Democratic state like New York, or a solidly Republican state like Texas, your vote doesn"t add up to much.

The National Popular Vote plan would be beneficial to states like California, Texas, and the other "spectator states" that are firmly in either the Democratic or Republican column. Presidential candidates would be forced to campaign in these states and address the policy issues that voters in these states are concerned with. Currently candidates have no incentive to address land management issues in Montana or the closing of a military base in Connecticut because these states are not in play.

Incidentally, with the exception of New Hampshire, all of the smallest states are "spectator states." Some commentators have suggested that the Electoral College is beneficial to small states because they have more voting power in proportion to their populations. But the reality is that most small state voters live in a state that will always go blue or always go red. These voters don"t have a chance of affecting the outcome of the election, so the Electoral College"s built-in advantage for small states is of no use to them.

Of course, the most important reason for instituting a National Popular Vote is to ensure that each voter has an equal say in determining who holds the highest office in our land. Today"s action in the California Senate brings us a little bit closer to that goal.

Scott Epstein is an intern with FairVote's Presidential Elections Reform Program. Scott is a masters student at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. He originially hails from New York and earned his bachelor's degree from Duke University.