Lawmakers talk about electoral college changeThe Associated Press NEW YORK — Amid calls in Congress to scrap the Electoral Col

The Associated Press
Saturday November 11, 2000

NEW YORK — Amid calls in Congress to scrap the Electoral College system, some state legislators are looking to see if they can change their state laws to better reflect the popular vote. 

The nation focused on the recount in Florida, but lawmakers on Thursday already were calling advisers and considering steps they could take to change the electoral system – now that there’s a very real chance a loser of the popular vote could end up with the presidency. 

“The inescapable reality is that it doesn’t reflect the premise upon which our country was founded – one person, one vote,” said Pennsylvania Rep. T.J. Rooney, a Democrat. “It’s an important conversation that we need to have in legislative chambers.” 

Some also worried about the possibility of so-called “faithless electors” – where an elector casts a vote for a candidate that failed to win the state’s popular vote. 

That happened in 1988 when a Michael Dukakis elector from West Virginia voted for Lloyd Bentsen, his running mate – and in 1976, when an elector for Gerald Ford in Washington state voted for Ronald Reagan. In 1968, a Richard Nixon elector chose George Wallace. 

But with Republican George W. Bush nominally the winner of the electoral vote (pending recounts in Florida) and Democrat Al Gore the apparent popular vote winner who could lose the White House, few Republicans liked the idea of change. 

“This is a system that’s worked and is an integral part of our democracy for centuries,” said South Carolina GOP House Speaker David Wilkins. “Just because there’s a close vote now I don’t think there’s any reason to turn about and change the system.” 

Abolishing the Electoral College would take a constitutional amendment, which requires approval by two-thirds of the U.S. House and Senate and ratification by 38 states. 

But each state could also change how they choose electors and divide their electoral votes.  

Though few legislative bills to do that were filed last year, phone calls on the subject were already coming into the National Conference of State Legislatures in the two days since the election. 

“It’s going to generate a great deal of heat and debate,” Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch said. 

For those looking to change, a model is already running in Maine and Nebraska, where each state allocates one elector to the winner of each congressional district and two electors for the winner of the state overall. 

So in Maine, three of its electoral votes could theoretically go to one candidate, with one vote to another. (This year, Maine’s four electoral votes go to Gore). 

Now, in a presidential election, voters cast ballots for 538 electors, not directly for the president and his vice presidential candidate.  

The electors, distributed according to each state’s number of House and Senate members, meet in December officially to complete the state-by-state electoral process. 

In 24 states and the District of Columbia, electors are not bound by any state law or regulation that they vote for their state’s popular-vote winner. 

And though others try to force electors to toe the line (it’s a felony in New Mexico to cast an errant vote), most constitutional scholars agree that those laws are unenforceable, NCSL said. 

Except for Nebraska and Maine, all states use a winner-take-all system. 

A proposed constitutional amendment in Congress would abolish the system, but Congress has considered and rejected some 700 proposals to change the system over the years. 

After George Bush won election in 1988 following eight years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, there were several failed attempts at the state level to change the system, said Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. 

“Because it was partisan-driven, it had limited effect,” he said. 

And while many Democrats railed that the latest results left voters disenfranchised, Republicans, and some Democrats, said the Electoral College works just fine – especially for smaller states who otherwise would be ignored. 

“I support the Electoral College,” said Rusty Hills, Michigan GOP chairman. “If you went to a popular system, these candidates would never leave Texas, New York, Florida and California.” 


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NCSL: http://www.ncsl.org