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Ballot Bamboozle

Some of California’s top Democrats now are planning a June ballot initiative that would call for the awarding of the state’s presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote. More simply, it would make sure that the winner of the White House is the one who gets the most votes.

The measure would take effect only if states representing a majority of the electoral votes agree to the change.

The group pushing the initiative, Californians for Fair Election Reform, is boosted by hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and producer Steve Bing.

If the initiative gets on the June statewide ballot, it may compete with a Republican-led initiative that would award California’s electoral votes based on the winner of the popular vote in each of the state’s congressional districts. It is being pushed by a lawyer who has represented the California Republican Party and the group Californians for Equal Representation. So in 2004 instead of John Kerry getting all 55 of the state’s electoral votes in the current winner-take-all system, he would have garnered 33, and Bush would have been awarded 22.

Democrats believe that if such an initiative passed, and no other state took similar action, it would all but eliminate their chances of capturing the White House. “You would have to have a tectonic shift of the electoral plates” for initiative not to have a detrimental effect on Democratic chances, says political consultant Chris Lehane, who is working on the campaign for Californians for Fair Election Reform.

The state’s Democrats have mobilized in recent weeks to counter what they have characterized as a power grab by the GOP.  Lehane says their initiative won’t have similar wording to that offered by Californians for Equal Representation.

The end result may be that voters are confused, and they do what they normally do, which is to vote down both initiatives. But that still would be a victory for the Democrats, because it retains the status quo.

Californians for Fair Election Reform also offered up  another initiative  that acts as a “poison pill.” If both pass, the one with the most votes is the one that goes into effect. If it is the district-by-district initiative, it goes into effect in the November, 2008 election. If it is the popular vote initiative, it would go into effect only when enough other states pass it as well. That is a big if, and it is doubtful that such a change could be put into place before 2008.

What’s more, both initiatives still need enough signatures to make it on the ballot.

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