National vote plan would help New York

Charles D. Lavine // Published April 30, 2008 in NewsDay
The 2008 presidential election is over in New York. Unless you are a major financial contributor or a Democratic superdelegate, your role in determining the next president ended with the Feb. 5 primary.

New York is a "safe" state. It consistently votes for the Democratic presidential candidate. We are not alone in this distinction. In more than two-thirds of the 50 states, one party is comfortably ahead. So neither candidate campaigns in those states, because to do so would be a waste of valuable resources. All of us who live in "safe" states are essentially disenfranchised.

Presidential candidates in 2004 allocated 99 percent of their resources to just 16 so-called battleground states. That includes money for advertising, polling, grassroots efforts, organizing, events and candidate visits. Six closely divided battleground states received two-thirds of the visits made by candidates and accounted for two-thirds of the money spent.

New York received none of that attention. We were ignored - except of course as a venue for raising money to spend in Ohio, Florida and the other battleground states.

The fair and equitable solution to this problem is to implement a direct, national popular vote for president.

A national popular vote guarantees the candidate receiving the most votes actually wins the election. Al Gore received more popular votes than President George W. Bush in 2000, but fewer electoral votes - hence, he lost the election. What is less well known is that if 60,000 votes in Ohio had switched to John Kerry in 2004, Kerry would have won the Electoral College and would now be sitting in the White House - even though 3.5 million more popular votes across the country would have been received by Bush.

In fact, in five of the past 12 presidential elections, a switch of a handful of votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate.

A national popular vote would eliminate swing states, safe states and the all-too-familiar maps of red and blue. Under a national popular vote, "winning" or "losing" a particular state would be irrelevant. What would matter is how many individual votes a candidate receives.

Currently, as long as a candidate receives the most votes in a given state, that candidate wins all of a state's electoral votes. That's why neither candidate campaigns in solidly Democratic or Republican states. A national popular vote makes every vote equal, and it would matter to candidates whether they received, for example, 4 million votes in New York or 4.5 million. The same would hold true for every state.

The current system also rewards candidates who narrowly focus on the issues important to battleground states. Cuban issues play a role in presidential campaigns largely because of the influential Cuban population in Florida. Issues of particular importance to New York (and any other safe state) are usually ignored, because candidates don't campaign here.

The national popular vote plan has already been signed into law in Maryland, New Jersey and Illinois, and it's being pursued in every other state. Sixteen legislative houses have approved this legislation in a little more than two years, and it has made progress in many others.

The National Popular Vote bill is simple and straightforward. The candidate that receives the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia is elected. The plan will only go into effect when it's been adopted by states representing a majority of the population of the United States.

New York moved its primary to February to have a greater impact on selecting the party nominees. It succeeded. The next step in solidifying New York's relevance is to adopt the national popular vote plan. That will give us more influence in the general election, and force candidates to actually campaign here and focus on issues that are important to New Yorkers.

Charles D. Lavine is a Democratic assemblyman from Glen Cove.

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