By Delegate Sheila Hixson
Published February 1st 2007 in Takoma Voice
The turmoil and administrative problems voters experienced last September on primary day made it clear that protecting voting rights must be one of our highest priorities in Maryland. In this spirit, lawmakers in Annapolis are set to tackle a series of good government reforms ranging from verifiable paper trails to campaign finance laws to a renewed push for early voting.
These are good steps towards strengthening our democracy, but I want Maryland to take an even bolder one. That's why along with Majority Leader Kumar Barve, Sen. Jamie Raskin and other members of the Assembly, I am sponsoring a bill to help fix our broken presidential elections. The time has come for a national popular vote for president.
If this sounds ambitious, it is – but sorely needed. We all remember the 2000 election, when Al Gore narrowly lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote across the country. This was an Electoral College break down of the first order, and it served as a powerful wake up call that something was wrong with the system.
Today, the presidential process can be as bad as the outcome. Under the current system, the country is sliced up into "swing states" and "safe states." States likes Ohio and Florida completely monopolize the race, while two-thirds of the country is left on the sidelines. A "safe state" has no political relevance: one party takes it for granted, and the other writes it off as unwinnable. Candidates have no incentive to visit, campaign, organize, advertise or drive up the vote in Maryland.
Despite its great people, growing economy and deep history, Maryland is utterly ignored by both parties. This is simply wrong. Our state is more than a fundraising stop on the presidential highway. We deserve to be a part of the national debate as much as the dozen swing states that dominate the campaign. For a truly national race, we need a national popular vote.
We need candidates who campaign in all fifty states, and if elected, feel accountable to the entire nation. We need a system that honors the principle of "one person, one vote," and does not shut out two-thirds of the country by dividing states into those that matter and those that can be ignored.
The National Popular Vote bill I am pursuing in Maryland is part of a fifty-state campaign. The plan calls for a majority of states to join an interstate agreement to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. When a majority of states representing an Electoral College majority of 270 electoral votes join, the law goes into effect. At that point, the national vote winner will be the Electoral College winner.
This is a sound way to pursue a great goal, taking advantage of the Constitutionally given right –and responsibility-- of states to decide how to award their electoral votes. Last year, the plan passed the California Assembly and Senate, the Colorado Senate, and a key committee in Louisiana. This year, bills are picking up momentum in all fifty states, and Maryland can lead the way.
It's time to work for what more than 70 percent of Americans have favored for half a century. It's time for a national popular vote for president.
Sheila Hixson is a Delegate for District 20 the Maryland General Assembly.