Popular Vote Is A Popular Choice For Bay State

By Christian Smith-Socaris // Published August 18, 2008 in Worcester Business Journal
In this year’s presidential primary, 1.7 million Massachusetts voters cast a ballot. That’s over a million more than the number that voted in the 2004 primary. Such an increase in turnout is unprecedented in the state, and similar increases took place in states throughout the country. What made for such a jaw-dropping surge in democratic participation? The answer is simple: people in every state felt their voices mattered. Wouldn’t it be great if Massachusetts voters felt that way in November as well?

On The Sidelines

Sadly, they won’t because we live in a country with an electoral process that ignores Massachusetts and its voter turnout, and instead delegates the selection of the president to the voters who turn out in just one or two so-called “battleground” states. Massachusetts is just a “spectator” state, which is why you won’t see any presidential candidates campaigning here anytime soon.

Fortunately, there is a movement to change the outdated way we elect the president and replace it with a straightforward national popular vote in which every vote counts and can equally affect the outcome of the election. By leveraging the constitutionally-mandated control states have over the allocation of their votes in the Electoral College, forward thinking legislators are championing an interstate compact that would give each state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

If they succeed, we would finally have a system in which every vote mattered and no state could be ignored. Every presidential election would look like the recent primary. This would be good for Massachusetts and good for democracy.

With a national popular vote, attacks on the federal funding of teaching hospitals would become politically risky; energy policy would not be distorted to benefit farmers in Iowa; and Massachusetts taxpayers might stand a chance of getting a respectable percentage of their tax money back from Washington.

This year, Massachusetts lawmakers had the opportunity to assume a national leadership role by joining Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Illinois as the fifth state to pass the interstate compact. Sadly, that opportunity was not realized.

Most of the blame falls to Republican legislators who utilized procedural ploys to prevent the bill’s enactment even after it had passed both houses. Instead of representing the interests of their state, they decided to rubber stamp the dysfunctional status quo and to consign the state’s tradition of bold leadership to the history books. However, some blame must also be laid at the feet of lawmakers in the Democratic majority, who waited until the end of the legislative session to move the bill to a final vote, at which it became an easy target for its opponents.

Clearly, the extra million Bay Staters who came out to vote in February understand how badly we need a presidential election in which everyone can be an active part. Hopefully, as those voters are once more ignored during the general election, they will let their lawmakers know that the time has come to let the voices of Massachusetts voters be heard. 

Christian Smith-Socaris is the senior election reform policy specialist with the Progressive States Network, a national organization that works to implement policies to advance the interests of working families in all 50 states.