Rx for U.S. elections
States can assure the popular vote rules

Published June 3rd 2006 in Sacramento Bee
The election of the U.S. president should reflect the directly expressed will of the American people.

But it doesn't.

The current Electoral College system can produce perverse results: A candidate can lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College vote and, thus, the presidency. That has happened several times in American history, most recently in 2000. With the nation so closely divided politically, this is likely to be an ongoing problem, undermining the legitimacy of our presidential elections.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Polls for the last 30 years have shown that Americans overwhelmingly support direct election of the president, but Congress hasn't budged on a constitutional amendment.

A new campaign, "National Popular Vote," spearheaded by several former members of Congress, including California's Tom Campbell (most recently Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's finance director), has a creative way to get the same result.

The campaign uses an old mechanism -- an interstate compact -- to achieve the direct election of the president. The idea is modeled on existing interstate compacts, such the Colorado River Compact, which divides water among seven Western states. The compact depends on states changing their own rules for dividing up their electoral votes.

We'd prefer a constitutional amendment simply abolishing the Electoral College, but this state-by-state reform is an achievable second-best solution to a defective product that even the Founding Fathers regarded wearily and warily.

The strongest arguments at the 1787 Constitutional Convention favored direct election of the president by the people. Proponents wanted the president to be the "guardian of the people" and as independent as possible of Congress and the states. But the delegates were hopelessly divided between direct election by the people and election by Congress.

The Electoral College was a last-minute compromise, reached under what James Madison called the "hurrying influence produced by fatigue and impatience." The Electoral College has been patched many times since.

The interstate compact proposal wouldn't abolish the Electoral College, but at least it would ensure that it reflects the national popular vote.

Election officials in the compact states would award all of their electoral votes to the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes nationally.

Clearly, one state could not do this on its own. So each of the states has the same 888-word bill entering into a binding interstate compact (you can find the text at www.nationalpopularvote.com). States would join the agreement one by one. The compact would take effect only after enough states joined to represent a majority of Americans and electoral votes -- 270 of the 538 electoral votes.

So far, the bill has been introduced in five legislatures -- California, Illinois, Colorado, Missouri and Louisiana. The campaign's goal is 10 states by the end of 2006 and enough states by the end of 2007 to make direct election the governing rule for the 2008 presidential election.

In California, the Assembly approved the bill Tuesday. Because California has such strong influence nationally, the governor and senators can get this process rolling in other states by acting this session. Otherwise, in presidential elections, unhappy Americans are bound to continue paying for the Founding Fathers' fatigue.
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.