Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dueling electoral college measures?

By AviShalom

Next year, Californians may be asked to vote on two conflicting measures to change how the state's presidential electors are allocated. Currently, like all states but Maine and Nebraska, California awards all its electors to the statewide plurality ticket for President and Vice President.

Republicans may throw their support behind a plan to change to the Maine and Nebraska model: one elector for the winner of the plurality in each congressional district, and two for the statewide plurality winner.

Democrats may back an initiative that would enter California into the proposed "National Popular Vote" interstate compact by which the electoral college would be converted into a nationwide plurality direct vote.

The status quo method is awful and should be abolished forthwith. However, is the congressional-district plan favored by some Republicans an improvement? On strictly small-d democratic grounds, absolutely not. Most congressional districts are totally safe for one party--even more than the state itself--and so this plan makes a problem (non-sensitivity to the popular vote) worse, not better.

Of course, on large-D Democratic grounds, the congressional-district plan is a major threat. It would essentially compensate the GOP for its likely loss of Ohio's 21 electoral votes in 2008. And the measure would be effective in the 2008 election were it to be on the ballot in February (presidential primary) or June (regular state primary), and were it to pass.

While a poll recently suggests 47% would favor the congressional-district measure and 35% oppose it, an actual vote is unlikely to result in 50% support, once statewide voters (most of whom have favored Democrats by wide margins in elections in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was not a candidate) catch wind of what is a pure partisan vote-grab.

The other measure would not take effect in 2008, but only after other states whose electoral votes sum to the 270 needed to elect a president had likewise signed on to the compact. At that point, states with enough to ensure victory in the electoral college to the popular-vote winning ticket would have bound themselves legally to give all their electoral votes to that ticket.

A bill to enter the state into the compact passed both houses of the legislature last year but was vetoed by the Governor.

I have discussed the National Popular Vote plan at Fruits & Votes, including making the point that this is not a partisan vote-grab, unlike the California Republicans' congressional-district plan (and to be fair, state Democratic efforts to play the same game in GOP states like North Carolina). In fact, I suspect that the Democratic Party nationally is marginally favored by the current use of statewide plurality in 48 states (and DC). But a direct vote--essentially what the National Popular Vote interstate compact would give us--is preferred democratically (small d).

If both measures in California qualify for the ballot and are approved, the one with the higher vote total would prevail. That's a lousy way to choose from among three alternatives, of course. But for me, as a small-d democrat, it is easy. The status quo is preferable to the congressional district plan, and the national popular vote is vastly preferable to the status quo.

You may read more about the National Popular Vote interstate compact at the movement's website.

(Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

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