The proposal is being pushed, nationwide, by the National Popular Vote campaign, which would like to see American presidents elected by popular vote, rather than the states at the electoral college.
California proponents believe the change would bring more campaign attention to their state, which -- although it has the most electoral college votes -- is often taken as a “given” based on voter registration margins and thus not hotly contested.
“Presidential candidates would have to come to California because of our population, and they would have to take a position on issues that we care about,” reasoned Assemblyman Tom Umber, D-Santa Ana.
Even if signed into law, the bill carries a provision that it would not take effect until states with a total of 270 electoral votes -- the number now required to win the presidency -- also agreed to allow the elections to be decided by overall popular vote.
At first glance, it appears reasonable to allow any state to award its electoral votes as it sees fit. But what would be the pragmatic effect of such a change?
“I don’t want a candidate to go to 10 or 12 big urban centers and walk away with the presidency,” replied Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Fresno, an opponent of the plan.
Indeed, Democratic candidates in recent presidential elections have won or come within a hair’s breadth of winning the popular vote while carrying virtually no rural or small-state areas other than south Texas, northern New England, the Indian lands of northern Arizona and New Mexico, the Mississippi from Memphis to Vicksburg, and patches of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The founders hammered out a series of compromises designed to reassure the smaller states that they would have at least some say in national politics -- that, in those days, the larger states of Virginia and Massachusetts wouldn’t run the entire show to their liking.
It’s not direct democracy -- which the founders abhorred as “mob rule” -- but it worked pretty well for two centuries.
(Some will argue it’s no longer working at all -- that presidential elections have become nothing but a choice between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dumber, each willing to promise us anything while leading us blissfully down the road to Weimar style inflation and whatever came after. All too true. But do we need to make it worse?)
A major function of the “outmoded” electoral college is to remind us that the nation is supposed to be a federal union of sovereign states with their own, distinct, laws and customs. And that, one suspects, is what really galls those who would like to impose top-down uniformity, treating the states as -- to use Jefferson’s phrase in his warning against Bonapartist tyranny -- little better than the “Departements” of France.
Heaven forfend we be allowed to “vote with our feet,” moving to states which choose to lower or eliminate taxes, to allow former government functions (including schooling) to revert to the free market, to re-legalize plant extracts or polygamy or machine gun ownership or anything else. No! Every state must be the same!
The Bolsheviks realized 90 years ago their tyranny couldn’t work unless it was imposed uniformly across an enormous landscape. (If the victims can flee, where’s the fun?) The similar intentions of today’s “liberal” statists is revealed by their tacit agreement that allowing the several states to maintain separate and distinct cultures, identities, and legal codes cannot be allowed.
If candidates and parties in order to run the country needed only to sway with promises of federal largesse the corporate and private welfare queens of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia -- Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore and Boston -- how long would the vast remaining countryside be content to send in their foodstuffs and their tax dollars in docile obedience?
And does anyone really believe that would bring presidential candidates scrambling to Chico, Modesto and Bakersfield?
In fact, if the country were to remain as evenly split as it has been in recent years, who can say what might throw a purely popular-vote race? A few thousand illegal aliens rounded up in pickup trucks and driven to the polls in the jurisdiction of a single corrupt registrar prepared to sell voter cards to the highest bidder?
California Republicans correctly branded the proposal an “end run” around the carefully crafted provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
Now, it would at first appear there’s no way to stop any state from awarding its electoral college ballots as it sees fit -- though it would be interesting to hear the bellows of outrage from the proponents of this creative scheme, were other states to decide on new criteria these populists considered benighted or Politically Incorrect.
It would also be interesting to hear the outcry if Californians threw their popular vote to one candidate but -- as a result of this law -- found their own electoral votes helping elect someone else president.
Not so fast, however. Smaller states may find cause here to point out that Article One, Section 10 of the Constitution directs that “No State shall, without the consent of Congress, ... enter into any Agreement or Compact with another state.”
Isn’t that precisely what the gang at the National Popular Vote campaign are proposing? If such a scheme were allowed, couldn’t any number of states then object that the Constitutional compact, having been heavily altered without going to the bother of ratifying a bona fide constitutional amendment, becomes void on its face?
Counterproposals for California -- or any other state -- to divide and award electoral votes by congressional district might go further to throw them back “into play” ... without the risks of this dangerous and hare-brained scheme.