A step toward ditching outdated Electoral College

// Published February 20, 2008 in The Daily News
Washington is poised to become the third state to enter a pact aimed at skirting the Electoral College and electing presidents by popular vote. The state Senate voted 30-18 Monday to hand all of Washington's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. For instance, if in Washington candidate "B" received the most votes, but candidate "A" won the popular vote nationally, Washington's Electoral College votes would go to candidate "A."

But don't look for any immediate change. Washington would continue awarding its electoral votes to the winner of the statewide vote until enough states join the pact to deliver at least 276 electoral votes. Only Maryland and New Jersey, with a total of 25 electoral votes, have entered the agreement. Washington would add 11 more electoral votes, for a total of 36. Two hundred and seventy electoral votes are needed to be president elect.

To amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College requires a two-thirds vote of Congress and ratification by the states. If the most vote-rich states joined this pact, as few as 13 could deliver the presidency to the winner of the national popular vote.

We take some encouragement from the fact that lawmakers in 44 states are debating whether to join this end run around the Electoral College. The college has come under more criticism since the 2000 presidential election, in which the loser in the popular vote won office with a majority of electoral votes. Thomas Jefferson was one of its first critics.

Republican supporters of President Bush, who won that election with 543,895 fewer votes nationally than former Vice President Al Gore, tended to dismiss much of the criticism as sour grapes. The 2004 presidential election should have helped bridge the partisan divide. It very nearly produced the mirror-opposite of the 2000 election. With just 60,000 more votes in Ohio, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., would have won that state's electoral votes and the presidency, even though Bush bested him by more than 3 million ballots in the national popular vote.

This isn't a new occurrence. It happened in 1824, when John Quincy Adams was elected, again in 1876 (Rutherford Hayes) and 1888 (Benjamin Harrison). The Electoral College marginalizes voters of all political parties. The system allots each state electors equal to the number of representatives and the state's two senators and was designed so that one region could not entirely control the outcome. In all but two states - Maine and Nebraska - the presidential candidate winning the state's popular vote takes all of its electors.

The winner-take-all aspect of the college shrinks presidential elections to a just a few so-called battleground states. Worse, it appears to make some votes count for less than others and leads to voter apathy.