R.I. poll: Most favor scrapping Electoral College, electing presidents directly

By Katherine Gregg, Cynthia Needham, Daniel Barbarisi and David Scharfenberg // Published June 9, 2008 in Providence Journal

Three-quarters of Rhode Islanders want to scrap the Electoral College and choose future presidents by popular vote, according to a poll conducted for a national advocacy group pushing for the switch.

The proposal is aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2000 election, when Democrat Al Gore got the most votes nationwide but Republican 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 findings of the June 1 telephone survey of 800 potential Rhode Island voters: 74 percent support the national popular-vote initiative, which cleared the Rhode Island Senate last week and is pending in the House.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Connors, D-Cumberland, would allow Rhode Island, which has four electoral votes, to join a national compact of states that commit their electoral delegates to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who carried each state. The measure would kick in only if states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes decide 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 Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto of the National Popular Vote bill.) Opponents here are concerned that Rhode Island’s voice would be severely “diluted” by a switch to popular-vote selection.

The key polling question went like this: “There is a proposal to change the way we elect the president. The current system elected a president based on the state by state vote totals. The new proposal would switch to a system that elects the president according to the vote totals in all 50 states. Would you generally support or oppose switching to a system that counts the votes in all 50 states combined?”

People on the other end of the telephone would signal their answers — yes or no — by pushing 1 or 2 on touch-tone phones.

The Rhode Island poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, N.C. The National Advisory Board of National Popular Vote includes former Illinois Republican Congressmen John Anderson, an independent presidential candidate in 1980, and former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., who lost the 1976 presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter.

A spokeswoman for the Clarendon Group, the local public relations company handling the Rhode Island drive, identified John Koza, of Los Altos Hills, Calif., as “the largest contributor (about 90 percent)” of the organization, which has “about 100 contributors in total.” A computer scientist, Koza was a co-inventor of the scratch-off lottery ticket, according to the New York Times.