National vote could help state
Millions of Americans believed all through his presidency that George W. Bush never deserved to hold that office - regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled and no matter who got a few hundred votes more or less in Florida. That was because Democrat Al Gore won more actual votes in the 2000 election than Bush, even if he didn't get more electoral votes.
A very similar thing almost happened four years later, when Democrat John Kerry ran more than 3 million votes behind Bush nationally, but would have become a minority-vote President if he'd taken just 60,000 more votes in hotly contested Ohio.
Bush was only the second President (after Rutherford B. Hayes) to win the office while getting fewer votes than the runner-up. But there have been numerous close calls because of the Electoral College, where votes are cast by each state without regard for the margin by which any candidate wins any particular state.
In short, one candidate can win California by more than 2 million votes, while a rival wins both Florida and Texas by fewer than 1,000 votes each - and the rival with the far lower overall margin will get more electoral votes.
Now there's a move afoot to prevent that kind of thing from ever happening again. Its backers call it the National Popular Vote (NPV) initiative. The aim: To have states commit all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. This would make the Electoral College as irrelevant as it probably deserves to be.
So far, just seven states have made this commitment. Even though state legislators passed a measure to add California to the list last year and the year before, ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measures both times, claiming it might deprive California voters of the impact their sheer numbers ought to command.
But the bi-partisan backers of the NPV call that so much paranoid balderdash. Instead of lessening California's impact, they contend their plan would give the state much more of a role in every presidential election. So they're back again with an NPV bill, that would commit California's electoral votes to the popular vote winner as soon as a total of 27 states make similar commitments. Sponsors this time are the chairmen of both the state Assembly's Republican and Democratic caucuses, Brian Nestande of Palm Desert and Jerry Hill of San Mateo.
They're both convinced using a national popular vote and diminishing the Electoral College would greatly increase California's impact on presidential elections.
"California is ignored in most presidential elections," Hill said. "Candidates do not come to California to campaign after the primary. They do not run television advertisements in California, they do not send direct mail or conduct field operations here. But they sure do a lot of fund-raising here."
That's correct. In 2008, for example, Barack Obama and John McCain concentrated 99 percent of their general election visits in 16 states. Backers of the NPV like to use New Hampshire and Rhode Island as examples of what goes on. Rhode Island is a solidly Democratic state in presidential voting, while New Hampshire is a tossup. New Hampshire got 12 visits in 2008 from presidential and vice presidential candidates who either held rallies or otherwise interacted with voters. Rhode Island got none. Money, meanwhile, is spent at a rate of roughly $3 million per candidate visit. So businesses from hotels, caterers and bus companies, to newspapers, TV and radio stations and telecom providers, are shortchanged in states that get few visits from candidates. Meanwhile, those types of businesses made hay in the 16 states that got almost all the candidate visits.
With that thought in mind, Rhode Island has adopted the NPV commitment, as have other small states like Vermont, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, all of which are usually solid Democratic turf.
California and Texas, one solidly Democratic and the other rock-ribbed Republican in presidential voting, also get few visits. But if the popular vote decided matters, NPV sponsors say, you can bet they would get plenty.
"Candidates would have to go where the people are. They'd essentially have to campaign everywhere, because they couldn't afford to neglect areas where a little effort might turn out a larger vote," said former Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte, now a political consultant. "Under NPV, they would have to spend less money in states like Florida and Ohio and more in California and Texas, because every additional vote they got out would count. As it stands now, an additional vote, or 100,000 votes, in those states doesn't matter much at all."
There's definitely some logic to this and there's no doubt California has been neglected in every presidential election since 1992. If the state can contribute to preventing another minority-vote president from ever taking office again, why not?