Advancing a Free Society

Will California do a Little Election Engineering?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perhaps feeling neglected as an uncompetitive “blue” state, or simply unable to get over the whole “selected, not elected” thing, California’s lawmakers seem determined to shake up future presidential elections. Their solution: AB 459, which would award California’s 55 electoral votes to the winner of nation’s, not the state’s, popular vote.

If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would be the latest (and, by far, the biggest) state to enter the burgeoning National Popular Vote compact – the idea being that a band of states, holding a majority of the nation’s electoral votes, will act as one in a presidential election and offer all of their electoral votes to the popular-vote winner. To date, seven states (Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia have climbed on board. That’s 77 electoral votes – 193 short of the 270 majority needed to win the White House.

Is this a good idea for California? Here are two arguments against:

  1. Does California Really Want to Go with the National Flow? Here’s a Hell scenario for Democrats in 2012: mocked, scorned and ridiculed by the mainstream media, Sarah Palin somehow soldiers through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and wins the Republican nomination. That’s not the only surprise in 2012: the economy takes a turn for the worse; the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates; scandal engulfs the White House when Donald Trump proves that the President’s birth certificate is a forgery – that’s because the real one is in the possession of Osama bin Laden, whose death was a hoax (I’m kidding here, folks). Democrats wake up the morning after Election Day to the mother of all hangovers: “Sarah Barracuda” is America’s 45th President – courtesy of the narrowest popular vote in American history. Would Bear Republic Democrats really want their electoral votes going the Grizzly Mama’s way?
  2. States That Lose Out. California won’t be a player in 2012, but some less populous states likely will: Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico – because each has changed “colors” at least once in the last three presidential elections. Let’s look at Nevada. In 2008, Barack Obama won it by 120,000 votes. In 2004, George Bush prevailed by 21,500 votes. Obama and John McCain each visited seven times. Bush visited three times; John Kerry, six times. McCain was trounced, yet he received only 6,000 fewer votes than Bush. Going into 2012, how do Republicans increase their turnout; how does the GOP chip into Obama’s 135,000-vote improvement over Kerry? At the risk of sounding like a shill for Nevada tourism, I love the concept of big national campaigns having to master the intricacies of small-state electorates. That exists in the current system, warts and all. You can’t guarantee it if enough state bands to form a 270 electoral-vote block grant. The small states that don’t join the band will earn “flyover” status.

As for California Republicans who feel left out of presidential politics, a ballot measure currently in circulation may change things. The California Electoral College Reform Act, targeted for next year’s statewide primary, would change the nation-state’s electoral-vote rules from winner-takes-all to e.v.’s awarded by the winner in each congressional district, with the popular-vote winner earning the additional two “at large” electorate votes (which is how it’s currently done in Maine and Nebraska).

If that system had been in play in 2008, California would have awarded 44 electoral votes to Obama and 11 to McCain. However, Obama won 8 of those districts by 5% or less. In a “non-surge” election, and with a strong Republican candidate, the GOP take in California to rise to as much as 19 electoral votes – one more than Ohio, one fewer than Illinois.

Not enough to make California the center of the campaign universe, but not a bad consolation prize either.

(photo credit: Shannon & Gaby)