As reported in the New York Times on 2 October, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have added his state to the proposed interestate compact under which states would agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. (The compact itself would take effect if, and only if, laws enabling it had been passed in states comprising at least 270 electoral votes, the number needed to elect a President.)
The veto is not surprising, as–unlike in various other states–for some reason the issue became a partisan issue in this state, and Republicans refused to vote for it in the legislature. I have addressed the merits of this idea before, as well as the utter speciousness of the arguments against it.
The short story is that it is a means by which states–which are constitutionally empowered to appoint their electors by rules of their own choosing–would commit to one another that they would back the national winner. Thus, without either a constitutional amendment or any kind of “end run” on the constitution (as some opponents have rather hysterically called it), we could transform our electoral process for chief executive into a democratic vote of the people.
Under the current system, the number of competitive states has been dwindling. We have ceased having national campaigns for the national executive as a result. In a large state like California, the campaign is virtually invisible, because the state is not competitive between the two main parties.
Under the national popular vote, a vote that might be cast by any citizen anywhere in the country would be just as valuable as that of any other, anywhere else. (One person, one vote–get it?) For some, democracy is still too threatening. Unfortunately, that includes the governor of our largest state–a governor who likes to style himself as a government reformer, and who was himself elected in a jurisdiction-wide plurality popular vote without the intermediation of electors (or even party primaries). If a vote for governor cast in Los Angeles can count just as much as one cast in Alturas, why can’t the vote cast in Alturas for president count as much as one cast in Cincinnati? The state-by-state, winner-take-all, rule for electing the most powerful leader in the world defies all logic, and indeed, the founders of the nation’s political system never defended it (to my knowledge).*
Why did this become a partisan issue in this state? I challenge my readers to tell me why Republicans–here or anywhere–believe their party would be harmed by this measure. Are they not aware that Bush won over 50% of the vote in 2004, yet nearly lost the electoral college in Ohio?
Are the Republicans right to believe that 2004 was an aberration and that they can win in the future only if the campaign is concentrated in a few states and not national? It is possible that the answer is yes, but advocates of democratizing America need to call them on it. Because “my party can’t win” is not an acceptable argument against democratic electoral reform.
* In fact, some years after the electoral college had gone into operation, Thomas Jefferson noted how states were unwilling to dilute their own particularistic influence for the good of the nation: As long as other states give all their electors to the winner–by whatever vote share or margin–within their own state, no state has an incentive to do anything else. The national popular vote compact solves this dilemma.