Drop Out of College!
This year's race for the presidency is shaping up to be as exciting as we've ever seen. But it's unlikely that New York voters will see either Barack Obama or John McCain campaign here between now and November. And there is no guarantee that the candidate who receives the most votes will go to the White House.
New York (like three quarters of the states) isn't a closely divided battleground state. Under the current system, all of a state's electoral votes go to the candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state.
As a result, candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, or pay attention to the concerns of states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a small handful of closely divided "battleground" states, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Voters in the other states are taken for granted by the candidate who's ahead, and written off by the candidate who's behind. In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in just five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states. In 2008, there will be fewer closely divided battleground states than ever. The most exciting presidential election in recent memory will be decided by voters in a handful of states.
Another shortcoming of the current system, and one that is cause for concern in a race as tight as this one, is that a candidate can win the presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. The winner of the popular vote and Electoral College has differed four times in 55 presidential elections, most recently in 2000. Excluding landslide elections, the second-place candidate has been elected almost 20% of the time. The second-place candidate would have won five of the last twelve presidential elections with a shift of a few thousand votes. In fact, 60,000 votes in 2004 would have elected John Kerry, even though President Bush was ahead by 3,500,000 votes nationwide.
This year, as we face another close election, it's time to reform the current system and do what more than 70% of the public has long supported - elect the president by a national popular vote.
The way it works is simple. The US Constitution gives the states exclusive and complete control over the way they award their electoral votes. The current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the statewide winner is not in the Constitution. In fact, this method was used by only three states in the nation's first presidential election. It was not the choice of the Founding Fathers.
The National Popular Vote bill (A3883 - currently being considered by the New York Legislature) would reform the Electoral College so it reflects the national choice of the people. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes - that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill is in effect, all the electoral votes from the states that enacted the bill would be awarded, as a bloc, to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). Essentially, once the bill takes effect, it would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide.
The National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes - about 20% of the 270 votes necessary to bring the law into effect. The bill has passed 21 state legislative houses around the country.
The National Popular Vote bill has bipartisan support from officeholders in all 50 states, including more than 1,181 state legislators. The movement for this bill is led by former Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
The National Popular Vote bill would reform the current system, giving states like New York equal influence because presidential candidates would have to campaign in New York and pay attention to issues affecting the state. Beyond New York, it would guarantee presidential elections unambiguously reflect the national will of the people.
Dr. John R. Koza is the chairman of National Popular Vote. (www.nationalpopularvote.com), a bipartisan non-profit corporation.