We vote for a fairer way to decide national elections

Published March 1st 2006 in Chicago Sun-Times
Calls to reform or abolish the Electoral College hit a fever pitch after the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore won the popular tally but didn't have enough votes in the right states to carry the electoral vote. That call quieted somewhat after the 2004 election, when President Bush won the popular vote but still could have lost the election if John Kerry had won Ohio. Despite interest in reform, nothing has happened, mostly due to the difficulty in amending the Constitution.

Now a bipartisan commission, whose members include former Rep. John Anderson (R-Ill.) and former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), has proposed an idea to retain the Electoral College while still ensuring it reflects the will of the majority of voters. The Sun-Times News Group backs the concept and applauds the National Popular Vote group for thinking outside the box.

The group's plan is to get enough states to agree to give all their electoral votes to the national vote winner, regardless of the results in their individual states. Under the proposal, each state would pass laws to change the way their electoral votes are awarded, a process the Constitution leaves for the states to set. They would also enter an interstate compact with other states that make the same change, agreeing that the new system won't take effect until states representing 270 electoral votes -- the number needed to carry the Electoral College -- have joined.

In Illinois, the plan is backed by a group that includes state Senators Jacqueline Collins, a Chicago Democrat, and Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican and chairman of the DuPage County Republican Party.

Using such a system in the last election would have meant Bush won all of Illinois' electoral votes, even though Kerry easily carried the state. If that sounds strange, it's no stranger than Illinois and other populous states being virtually ignored by both parties during the last campaign, since one candidate or the other had them locked so early. That likely hurt the turnout in those noncompetitive states, affecting elections further down the ticket.

What of awarding electoral votes by the top vote-getter in each congressional district, as is currently done in Nebraska and Maine? That would simply set up a situation where candidates concentrate on a small number of battleground districts, because, thanks to gerrymandering, most districts are noncompetitive.

Republicans may be hardest to persuade to support this plan, over fears that large urban centers that tend to vote Democratic will dominate elections. But that wasn't an impediment to Bush's re-election. And polls show most Americans want the president to be elected by the popular vote. It's time to make the change with this innovative plan.

This editorial represents the view of the Sun-Times News Group of 100 newspapers in the Chicago metro area.