- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

DENVER | A movement to bypass the Electoral College and elect the president based on the popular vote is gaining steam, racking up almost one-fifth of the support needed to trigger the plan.

National Popular Vote, a California-based group formed in 2006, has won commitments from four states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. Those four states — Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii — have 50 electoral votes among them.

The goal is for states with a total of 270 electoral votes to enter into a compact in which they agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.

Since presidential candidates need 270 electoral votes for victory, such a compact would ensure that the candidate earning the most votes nationwide would win the election, and the Electoral College would be made irrelevant. Campaigning would become radically different. The most obvious change is that there would be no advantage to getting 51 percent in a given state, thus no “battleground states.”

The new system wouldn’t kick in until the target is reached, said John Koza, chairman of National Popular Vote and the designer of the plan.

“We have 20 percent of the electoral votes we need,” said Mr. Koza. “The whole idea of the bill is that no state can do this alone. It only goes into effect when we have 270 electoral votes.”

At this rate, however, the system could be implemented in time for the 2016 presidential race. Nearly every state has introduced National Popular Vote legislation this year, and seven have passed bills in one chamber.

The next state to join the compact could be Colorado. In 2007 and 2008, the state Senate there passed the legislation, but not the House. In March, however, the House passed a popular-vote bill and sent it to the Senate, which has changed little since last year.

Proponents argue that the National Popular Vote has numerous advantages over the current system. All but two states now award their electoral votes based on a winner-take-all approach, which creates the chance that the winner of the Electoral College vote could be the loser of the popular vote.

It has happened three times in U.S. history, most recently in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush lost the popular vote but won the election by gaining more electoral votes than his opponent, Democrat Al Gore. In 2004, it almost happened again. If 60,000 votes in Ohio had shifted from Mr. Bush to Democrat John Kerry, Mr. Kerry would have won the electoral vote despite trailing by 3.5 million votes.

“The winner-take-all system isn’t only undemocratic, it’s also dysfunctional,” said Colorado state Sen. Andy Kerr, a Democrat who sponsored the Colorado legislation.

Those recent squeaker elections may explain the push for a system tied more closely to the popular vote. Advocates of the National Popular Vote also insist that the legislation is bipartisan and wouldn’t favor either political party in the presidential contest. The group’s advisory board includes a handful of former Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Jake Garn of Utah and Rep. Tom Campbell of California.

However, the movement has garnered far more supporters among Democrats than Republicans. In Hawaii, for example, the legislation passed in 2008 only after both Democrat-controlled chambers overrode the veto of Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.

Republicans say Democrats are using the proposal to avenge their loss in the 2000 presidential race.

“For Democrats, it’s a reaction to wanting to poke George W. Bush in the eye,” said Colorado state Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Republican who opposes the popular-vote legislation. “After the 2000 vote, Democrats seemed to react with ‘popular vote good, Electoral College bad,’ and Republicans, being more traditionalists, have responded with ‘Electoral College good, popular vote bad.’ ”

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