Ex-Olympian leads voting change effort
Campaign to end Electoral College takes to the states

By Brad Shannon
Published March 18th 2006 in The Olympian (WA)
Critics say the Electoral College is antiquated and needs to be scrapped. But efforts to do so never seem to go anywhere.

Attempted constitutional amendments to let voters select the president directly died in Congress in 1969 and 1979.

A national group, FairVote, is taking a new approach to the old challenge, according to Rob Richie, a former Olympia resident and leader of the Maryland-based group that has joined the National Popular Vote effort.

Richie said his group is just beginning its work around the country to get state legislatures to pass laws that pledge a state's electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the nation's popular vote. A compact would link the states' agreements, so that once states totaling 270 electoral votes were included, the next president would effectively be chosen by the popular vote winner.

“I would guess we'll get at least one state joining the agreement this year. ... We'll get states joining it one by one,” Richie said earlier this week during a stopover in Olympia. He knows he's “not very likely to get it in place by 2008. ... But by 2012, it's very likely.”

Illinois lawmakers already are considering such an idea, and states such as Washington — which has 11 electoral votes, one for each of its members of Congress — would be asked next year to join the multistate pact.

The idea got renewed interest after the 2000 elections when George W. Bush won the Electoral College balloting and became president, even though Al Gore got more votes nationwide. Then in 2004, Bush won the popular vote, but would have lost if Democrat John Kerry had gained 60,000 more votes in Ohio.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed has discounted the idea, arguing that without the Electoral College's winner-take-all approach, Washington and smaller states might not get as much attention in presidential campaigns as they do now.

“I suspect if I were to talk to other secretaries of state, I doubt any of them would take this very seriously,” Reed said. Scrapping the Electoral College would lead to campaigns centered on media centers such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, he said.

Arguments like that are based on old information, Richie said. He said Florida got 61 visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates in the final five weeks of the 2004 campaign, while Washington and 25 other states got no visits; polling also dropped off, showing just how irrelevant those voters had become to the national campaigns.

Additional data in his group's report, Presidential Election Inequality, show that fewer and fewer states are true battlegrounds, and states such as Washington are in danger of “falling off the map” because they have become less like swing states, Richie said.

Overall, there were just 13 swing states in the last election, compared to 23 in 1960.

Several state lawmakers said they are intrigued by the idea and would like to learn more.

“I'm definitely interested in hearing it. What it would look like in terms of a bill I couldn't say,” said Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, chairwoman of the House committee that handles elections.

Her counterpart, Republican Rep. Toby Nixon of Kirkland, said: “The Electoral College is an anachronism. It was very useful in a day and time when it was difficult to communicate long distances. The concept of running a nationwide campaign just technically would not have been possible. Nowadays that clearly is not an issue.”

“I think we would certainly entertain it,” said Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, chairman of the Senate committee that deals with election issues.

“But keep in mind these kinds of pacts are very difficult to carry out. We've dealt with it on everything from streamlined sales tax to emergency management,” Kastama said. “Getting states to agree to something exactly the same is extremely difficult.”
Sierra Club National Popular Vote Resolution
WHEREAS, the mission of the Sierra Club is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet through grassroots participation in politics and government; and

WHEREAS,  presidential candidates focus their efforts and resources only in battleground states.

WHEREAS, two-thirds of the states receive little to no attention in a competitive presidential election.

THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sierra Club supports National Popular Vote state legislation that will elect the President of the United States by popular vote.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the Sierra Club supports election of the President of the United States by direct popular vote.