On April 15, 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State quietly signed into law the National Popular Vote, making New York the 10th state -- along with the District of Columbia -- to support this effort, while also boosting the total numbers to 165 of the 270 electoral votes needed to make a true national popular vote a reality. Every member of Congress has one Electoral College vote, which, along with D.C.'s three votes, makes a total of 538. Not an issue that receives much media coverage, this bill could be the most important act of voting reform implemented in our lifetime. Four years in the making, the bill was championed in New York by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who tirelessly advocated for it and informed members of both the New York State Senate and Assembly about its merits, ultimately garnering enough bipartisan support to get the bill passed in a 102-33 vote in the Assembly and a stunning 57-4 vote in favor in the State Senate -- no small achievement with that notoriously dysfunctional crowd.
The bill has now passed in 33 legislative chambers in 22 states and has been introduced in all 50 states. Ten states -- Rhode Island, Utah, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and California -- and the District of Columbia have embraced this interstate compact giving states the authority to reform our presidential voting system. Strange that the presidential election -- where we choose the person who will hold the highest office in the land -- is the only one not determined by the popular vote. In our early history, the Founding Fathers were right to create this system, as we only had those original thirteen states and the technological limitations and large distances made it necessary to streamline what could have been a cumbersome and lengthy process. But now, with the technological advancements we have made, one has to wonder if the Electoral College has indeed outlived its time. After all, isn't the Constitution supposed to be a living document and a work in progress?
The current system is a winner-take-all contest that awards all of the electoral votes in a state to the presidential candidate that receives the most popular votes in that state, so even if one candidate wins 51 percent and one wins 49 percent, all of that state's votes go to a candidate that really only won the votes of half of the state's voters. Also, with states like California and New York holding such huge numbers of votes, presidential campaigns have been reduced to intense fights over a few "swing" states that can flip the election either way, while much of the rest of the nation is left on the sidelines, wondering if their votes even matter. We saw in 2000 how George W. Bush won the electoral vote, while Al Gore won the popular vote, but the presidency was awarded to Bush with the aid of an absurd and nakedly partisan ruling by the conservative majority in the Supreme Court. One state -- Florida -- made the difference and delivered the presidency to Bush. In 2008, Barack Obama won the election as soon as the votes were counted in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Of course, there are pros and cons to this issue. States with smaller populations, like New Hampshire and South Carolina, have great clout as so-called "battleground" states during the primaries, and would want to maintain their national importance, along with the perks that come from Congress due to their exalted position. These states receive 7 percent more federal grants than so-called "spectator" states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more superfund enforcement exemptions and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions. In 2012, four out of five states were virtually ignored by the candidates during the campaign - though some might argue that this is a good thing -- and two-thirds of the general election campaign events (176 of 253) were held in just four states -- Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa. The visits, polling, advertising, mailed literature, phone calls, organizers that pour into the battleground states pumps millions of dollars in campaign funding into these states, expanding their economies -- at least once every four years. And need we even mention the pandering to the concerns of those states by the candidates? So it's clear that these swing states would yelp and howl if anything was to change.
Another flaw in the current system is that it pits urban states against more rural states, and even divides sections within states that vote mostly for one party or another, further dividing our nation's citizens ethnically, socially and economically. When Sarah Palin talked about the "real America" -- as in suburban and white, as opposed to urban and black -- her racially charged, coded language said it all.
An election cannot be considered fair and representative of the interests of our country if candidates are focusing their campaigns on only a few battleground states that, while producing riches in delegate votes, are only a small fragment of America's population, while states like New York, with a population of 19.6 million, and California, with a population of over 38 million, are left to the wayside. It is a given that these states vote heavily Democratic, so both parties generally ignore them, except when the Democrats -- and Republicans, to a lesser extent -- use them as ATMs to raise money for presidential candidates and their parties. Much of the rest of the country, however, are left to be spectators, with their voices and needs ignored. It is time for presidential candidates to speak for and to all Americans and actually earn their votes for the highest office in our land.
The National Popular Vote Plan would guarantee that the presidency would be won by the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and D.C. This issue has legs, as at least one senator or representative in each of the 50 states has sponsored a bill for nationwide popular elections, or has voted for a nationwide, popular election of the president in a Roll Call vote in Congress. Presidents Nixon, Carter, Ford and George H.W. Bush have all supported a popular vote election of the president, so this is an issue that should have bipartisan support.
We must stop being the only democracy that indirectly elects its chief executive. Every voice and vote must matter. After all, isn't that what democracy is all about?
- with Jonathan Stone