Presidents by National Popular Vote and Early Registration for Teens

Katherine Gregg // Published May 28, 2008 in Providence Journal

Presidents by national popular vote

Legislation approved by the Senate yesterday would make Rhode Island one of a handful of states pledging its presidential delegates to whoever wins the national popular vote.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Connors, D-Cumberland, would allow Rhode Island to join a national compact of states that commit their electoral delegates to the national popular vote winner, regardless of who actually carried the state.

The measure would only kick in if states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes decided to make the same change.

Passage of the bill would make Rhode Island the fifth, alongside Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland. (On May 1, both Houses of the Hawaii Legislature overrode their governor’s veto of the National Popular Vote bill and enacted the bill into law.)

The proposal is aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2000 election, when Al Gore got the most votes nationwide but George W. Bush put together enough victories in key states to win a majority in the Electoral College and capture the White House.

Among the arguments being raised in state after another by National Popular Vote Inc., the coalition pushing the drive, is that: “Everyone who remembers 2000 knows that it can lead to the election of the candidate who loses the popular vote as president.” It is also “an anti-democratic relic” that “focuses presidential elections on just a handful of battleground states, and pushes the rest of the nation’s voters to the sidelines.”

But the bill produced a rare — though brief — debate before the Senate approved it on a 27-to-10 vote. It now goes to the House.

Doing the math, Senators James Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, and Leo Blais, R-Coventry, said each of little Rhode Island’s four electoral votes count for something now — approximately one out of every 134 votes cast — but they would be severely diluted by a population-based method for choosing presidents in which Rhode Islanders’ voices would barely be heard.

Early registration for teens

A revived effort to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote won Senate approval yesterday.

Rhode Island law already allows 17-year-olds to register, as long as they will turn 18 before the next election. This bill would allow anyone 16 or older to preregister, with that registration becoming active upon the voter’s 18th birthday. Advocates believe this will make them more likely to vote when they are eligible. The bill now goes to the House.

While there was no debate in the Senate, the bill introduced by Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, has been dogged each year by arguments it would clog an already error-ridden voter registry, noting that it contains no provision for verifying when an 18-year-old’s registration becomes active, or that he or she has not moved since registering.

A 2006 version of the bill was squelched by a veto by Governor Carcieri. “While I agree that we must make every effort to register more young voters, the bill undermines a critical objective: the maintenance of accurate and up-to-date voter lists,” Carcieri wrote in his veto message.