Written Testimony of Rob Richie, Executive Director
On Behalf of Hawaii’s SB 1956, February 6, 2007
Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of the SB 1956, the legislation to enter Hawaii into an interstate agreement that would guarantee the election of the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. My name is Rob Richie. For the past 15 years I have been the executive director of FairVote, a nonprofit group based outside Washington, D.C. I am co-author of Every Vote Equal, a book that explains the National Popular Vote plan, and our organization produced Presidential Election Inequality, a report detailing increasing serious problems with the current Electoral College system. I prepared this testimony with Ryan O’Donnell, my colleague who runs our Presidential Election Reform program.
I strongly support the National Popular Vote legislation. A nationwide election of the President is a goal supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans (more than 70% in 2005 polls in Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning states alike, and as high as 80% in some Gallup polls in recent decades). Americans recognize that our country only benefits from campaigns that reach out to everyone and everywhere—small states, big states, rural areas and urban areas alike. The current system does just the opposite. Today's elections focus exclusively on an ever-smaller club of swing states. The system is nothing like the one-person, one-vote system we hold for every other election of import in this nation.
Hawaii does not receive the attention it deserves, as it is nearly completely ignored by both parties. Because of the current state-by-state system where only swing states matter, candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or address the important concerns of the Hawaii’s people. Indeed, the 2004 presidential campaign of George Bush was the richest in history -- but it didn't waste a dime in polling a single person outside of 17 potential swing states in the last two years of the campaign. All the Americans in spectator states meant absolutely nothing to the campaign because their votes were taken for granted.
Our report measures the adverse impact of the current system in many ways. Here are a few:
- The presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the major parties made 291 campaign stops in the last five weeks of the 2004 campaign. 109 were in Florida or Ohio, while a majority of states did note receive even a single visit.
- In those last five weeks of the 2004 campaign, more than $110 million was spent on television ads about the presidential election in Ohio and Florida. Not a single presidential campaign ad aired in 25 states, and only $388,095 was spent on ads in Hawaii.
- The ten states with the biggest declines in youth turnout over the past 30 years are all "spectator states." Young people under 30 were 36% more likely to vote in the ten closest swing states than the rest of the nation in 2004.
- A white American in 2004 was more than twice as likely as an Asian American to live in a swing state.
As you consider the National Popular Vote bill before you, you are considering a bright-line choice. On one side is a Hawaii where its people are politically relevant in the most important election we hold in America, and on the other, a Hawaii for which 2008 and future elections will be a spectator sport. On one side is a truly national campaign, where we elect the president of all fifty states, and on the other, an election decided by only a dozen. On one side, a great incentive to get out the vote and engage the people of Hawaii and on the other, not even an incentive to air an ad. Joining with the majority of Americans in electing the president with a national popular vote is a declaration that the people of Hawaii are just as important as the important as the people of Ohio or Florida when deciding the future of our nation. Embracing the current system implies that it is somehow less.
In no way will Hawaii be taking this important step alone -- and of course nothing will change until states representing a majority of Americans have entered into this agreement. Lawmakers in 47 states have agreed to sponsor the National Popular plan this year, and I suspect it will be debated in all 50 state legislatures -- and advance to the governor's desk in a mix of big and small states, red and blue states. Indeed, just yesterday it passed out of a key senate committee in Montana with the support of a majority of the committee’s Republicans and a majority of the committee’s Democrats. Such wide-ranging speaks to the universal and fundamental appeal of democratic fairness in America.
We are fortunate that the Founding Fathers created a Constitution that gave you and state legislators like you the power to choose how the President would be elected. -- and make our elections work for your citizens. States have the right and responsibility to award their electoral votes in a manner chosen by the states themselves. The National Popular Vote bill solves a widely recognized problem. It is a common sense approach that is firmly rooted in the Constitution.
Our nation recently mourned the death of Gerald Ford. President Ford, just like other presidents of his era like Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson, supported a national popular vote for president. In 1969, as minority leader in the U.S. House he rose to speak, ending with "Now, my final point is this: I believe that we ought to pass the direct method of selecting the President of the United States. If we do not, it is my honest opinion that the people will be let down."
In the end, one thing is sure. Americans want a government that listens to them, and elections in which their votes count. We all hold the principle of "one person one vote" in high regard. When it comes to the most important election we hold, only a national popular vote will do, for Hawaii, and for America. That is why I respectfully urge you to support this bill.