Cover Story

Unify and conquer

"Unify and conquer" Continued...

Issue: "Unify and conquer," June 14, 2008

Unforeseen world events-and perhaps unforeseen scandal-could await both candidates, and Sabato says that's where voters may learn the most. "The candidates will be thrown some curve balls, and we learn about them by how they react to them," he says. "They're the X-factor, and they're things no one can predict."

Popularity contest

A nationwide movement to subvert the Electoral College takes aim at 2012

By Mark Bergin

Illinois state Sen. Kirk Dillard

Since 2000, when President George W. Bush claimed the White House despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore, dissatisfaction with the Electoral College system has surged. But the need for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the longstanding and convoluted process has blocked serious discussion of change-until now.

With the addition of Hawaii on May 1, the National Popular Vote Bill has now passed into law in four states and is under consideration in dozens more. In passing the bill, states agree to disregard their individual tally and award all their presidential electors to whichever candidate receives the most votes nationwide. The compact only takes effect once enough states have signed on to make up a majority of the Electoral College, thereby ensuring a popular vote victory.

Supporters of the movement believe this year's election may serve as a springboard for their cause. With early polls of a head-to-head matchup between Barack Obama and John McCain indicating fewer battleground states than ever, a large majority of the country may feel frustrated that its votes in so-called throw-away states are less meaningful.

In a state like Alabama, for example, where polls show McCain with as much as a 28-point lead, neither candidate is likely to waste time or money fighting for electors already effectively determined. Obama supporters living in Alabama would have little reason to participate, just as McCain supporters might consider their votes irrelevant in a state like New York.

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, believes such potential frustration will push legislators to keep the 2000 scenario from ever happening again: "If people notice that and get all the more bugged by it, they'll say, 'We don't need to do this again. We have a vehicle for changing,'" he said. "It's not going to be in place this year, but there's every reason to believe it can be in place in 2012."

Critics of a national popular vote worry that it will diminish the importance of small states, whose current allotment of two electors to coincide with two senators helps balance the lopsided importance of high-population states like California or Texas. With no such balancing force, critics say, candidates would focus exclusively on high population centers. "This is precisely the imbalance the framers of our U.S. Constitution sought to avoid," wrote Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas in vetoing the bill in his state last month.

But Richie and other supporters contend that deference to the popular vote would expand the areas of focused campaigning by making every vote of equal value no matter if located outside the battleground states.

What impact might the initiative have politically? It would hand a slight advantage to Democrats, given that small states, most of which vote Republican, would lose their disproportional influence. Nevertheless, polls indicate more than 70 percent of Americans favor a national popular vote, and the current bill boasts hundreds of supporting politicians, many of GOP stripe.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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