The Presidential Election Reform Act sounds like an effort at a remedy to all of the confusion and consternation over electronic voting, paper chads and unpurged registration rolls.
It is not. Rather, it is a California state initiative aimed at the much maligned Electoral College.
Under the plan being proposed for next June’s statewide primary election ballot that promises to change the way that the state’s electors choose the next president. With the election of 2000 still stinging in many voters minds, who wouldn’t go for it?
This reform has much more to do with politics, not process. Instead of a winner-take-all system, in which the candidate with the most popular votes gets all of the state’s 55 electoral votes, electors would be chosen by who wins the most votes in each congressional district.
A lawyer for the state Republican party is spearheading the effort, and it is easy to see why. It will all but guarantee the GOP a chunk of those electoral votes, forcing the Democrats to look to make them up elsewhere.
Since 1992, California has been so reliably Democratic that the nominees from both parties have scarcely campaigned here. Like the proponents of the successful effort to move the state’s primary from June to February, the altruistic argument will be that the new set up will force candidates to pay more attention to the Golden State.
This ignores the fact that the lion’s share of the state’s congressional districts are so lopsided in favor of one party or another that candidates still would be campaigning elsewhere. Even if California changes its law, that doesn’t change the fact that Ohio, Missouri, etc. won’t be swing states.
In this week’s Newsweek, Jonathan Alter notes that even if the entire country were to switch to a system like this (the Democrats are trying to do the same thing in North Carolina), campaigning would still come down to a handful of swing districts. A more sensible plan, he says, is one in which state legislatures agree that their state’s electors will vote for the winner of the popular vote.
So far, outside of Alter and a New Yorker piece written last week by Hendrik Hertzberg, this initiative has been largely lost in the frenzy of the presidential campaign, or even state efforts to restrict voting machine companies like Diebold. The fear is that, come next June, it will be lost on voters as well.