Panel backs elimination of the electoral college

By Katherine Gregg
Published April 24th 2009 in The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE — A national drive to change the way the president and vice president of the United States are elected has won the backing of a state Senate committee Thursday night.

Vetoed last year by Republican Governor Carcieri, the bill would have allowed Rhode Island to join a national compact of states that commit their electoral delegates to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who carries each state.

The measure, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would kick in only if states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes decide to make the same change.

Sponsored here by Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors, D-Cumberland, and four Senate committee chairmen, the proposal is aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2000 election, when Democrat Al Gore got the most votes nationwide, but Republican George W. Bush put together enough victories in key states to win a majority in the Electoral College and capture the White House.

FairVote, the advocacy group pleading the campaign, argues: “Small states like Rhode Island are almost all spectator states in the presidential election. Ninety-eight percent of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided ‘battleground’ states ... Electing the president by national popular vote would mean that our votes here in Rhode Island would be worth the same as a vote in Florida and Ohio.”

In his veto message, Carcieri said “the appropriate forum to change or eliminate the Electoral College is through a Constitutional amendment to the United States Constitution,” but “despite the cries from those who believe the current system is unjust, and that the only legitimate way to select a commander-in-chief is by direct election, no serious effort has been made to amend the Constitution to provide this ‘remedy.’ ”

“The state legislature should focus on legislative matters that are germane to our state and leave federal matters to our Congressional delegation,” he added.

There was only one dissenting vote — from Sen. Leo Blais, R-Coventry — when the bill sailed through the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The bill is now headed to the full Senate for a vote, along with one in a series of bills aimed at cracking down on drunken drivers. Sponsored by Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, the bill would make it a felony, punishable by up to three years in jail and a $3,000 fine, for someone with a revoked or suspended license to drive under the influence of illegal drugs or liquor.