Sidestepping the Electoral College

By John McVey
Published April 2nd 2007 in The Journal - Martinsburg Journal (WV)

Senate Bill 482 was introduced to the West Virginia Senate in early February during the recently concluded regular legislative session. SB482 would have included the Mountain State in the interstate compact titled "Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote."

The Senate bill was sponsored by a host of majority party luminaries: Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, Robert H. Plymale, D-Wayne, Joseph M. Minard, D-Harrison, John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell, Edwin Bowman, D-Hancock, Ron Stollings, D-Boone, John Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, Larry J. Edgell, D-Wetzel, and Roman W. Prezioso, D-Marion.

SB482, despite its highly placed list of sponsors, and its companion bill in the House of Delegates, House Bill 3247, the lone sponsor of which was Mike Caputo, D-Marion, went nowhere, both dying in committees.

What these bills would do if either were enacted would mandate West Virginia’s five presidential electors go to the candidate with the most popular votes nationally. The bills would be ways of sidestepping the Electoral College wherein West Virginia’s electors go to the candidate who carries the state.

West Virginia is one of 38 states where similar bills have been introduced to their state legislatures.

Maryland became the fifth state Wednesday in which at least one chamber of the state Legislature passed National Popular Vote legislation. Maryland’s Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 29-17.

One chamber in the Arkansas, Hawaii and Colorado legislatures have passed similar pieces of legislation. In Colorado, the bill was defeated in the other chamber.

The California Legislature passed an NPV bill last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In nine states, National Popular Vote bills are being drafted and in three, NPV bills are looking for sponsors.

The idea behind the bill is the popular vote would determine who becomes president, not the Electoral College. In 2000, Al Gore garnered more votes than George W. Bush, but Bush won the presidency because he got more Electoral College votes.

In 1824, there were four presidential candidates and none won a majority of electoral votes. As per the Constitution, the members of the House of Representatives picked the next president in such a case. Talk about cut-throat politics.

The House selected John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, although Jackson won a plurality of electoral votes and the most popular votes, but not a majority.

Jackson got the last laugh, though. He won the presidency four years later by getting the most popular votes and electoral votes.

Samuel J. Tilden garnered more popular votes in 1876 than Rutherford B. Hayes. There were some 20 electoral votes in dispute, and after a bitter fight, the disputed electoral votes were awarded to Hayes, giving him the presidency.

The 1888 election was the most cut and dried of all the contested elections. Incumbent President Grover Cleveland received 48.6 percent of the popular vote while Benjamin Harrison got 47.8 percent. However, Harrison carried the larger states with more electors, receiving 233 electoral votes to Cleveland’s 168.

The thing to remember is we don’t have a national presidential election; we have 51 separate, individual elections held by the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The president might be the chief of state, but he does not run in nor is he selected by a national election.

I’m all for a national presidential election. I believe firmly that the people should elect their president. The office of president is the last elected office that the people do not directly vote for.

Some of the arguments in favor of the Electoral College include it making candidates campaign in all states, big and little. If the winner only had to get the most votes, states like West Virginia would be ignored; candidates would focus on the big states only. I’m not sure that doesn’t happen now.

West Virginia was called a battleground state in 2000. Florida turned out to be the real battleground state that year.

In 2004, West Virginia was completely off the radar screen. No one cared who Mountaineers were voting for that year.

And in 2008, the battleground state probably will be someplace else and candidates’ time, energy and resources will be focused there.

— John McVey is editorial page editor of The Journal. He can be reached at (304) 263-3381, ext. 128, or [email protected]