Power to the Popular

The next POTUS will be elected old school—their successor might not.

By Sarah Anderson January 4, 2009 Published in the April 2008 issue of Seattle Met

AS IF THE MOST dynamic presidential election in decades wasn’t enough to wrap your mind around, in sweeps the latest from Olympia: House Bill 1750, legislators’ quest to dismantle the electoral college. The system set up by the founding fathers to elect presidents via state representatives, not the popular vote, allots each state a number of electors based on population (Washington gets 11, California 55), which gives some states disproportionate clout. “The problem in Washington is that we are not a swing state,” says Joe King, a lobbyist for the bill. “That means our issues don’t come into play.”

If HB 1750 passed, all of Washington’s electoral college votes would go to the winner of the national popular vote, not the winner in our state. But only if states representing the majority of electoral college votes join an interstate pact to apply the same method, ensuring that the national popular vote winner takes the White House.

Not everyone in Olympia is buying it. “It’s the most ridiculous piece of legislation I’ve seen in 14 years,” huffs Republican state senator Don Benton. He argues that the individual voter’s voice would go unheard and Washington’s choice could be overlooked in favor of the national winner, even if no one in our state voted for him or her. But popular-vote advocates say the will of the people is already compromised, citing the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore won the national popular vote but lost the White House to electoral college winner George Bush. “I think it’s very fair to say that whoever wins the popular vote [should win] the election,” says bill sponsor and Democratic state senator Joe McDermott.

Of course none of this will impact the contest between Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. Only New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois have adopted such legislation. But 2012 could be a different story. Similar bills have sponsors in 44 other states, and California’s senate recently approved one (even if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated it). Our HB 1750 failed this winter when it didn’t get enough votes in the House. Our state senators passed a similar bill, but it too died from lack of support. McDermott and crew will likely take yet another shot at overhauling presidential elections next year.

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