By Jeremiah Frei-Pearson, a member of the ACS New York Lawyer Chapter Executive Committee, and a civil rights attorney who ran for the New York State Assembly in 2010
Remember the 2000 election? Although over 500,000 more Americans voted for Al Gore than George W. Bush, Bush received 5 more electoral votes than Gore and, as a result, won the presidency. An unnecessary and unending war, economic collapse and a rising poverty rate ensued. This sort of scenario could be avoided in the future if our state legislatures could collectively pass the National Popular Vote.
The debacles of 2000-2008 can't be blamed solely on the Electoral College, but, the fact remains that if the candidate who got the most votes were awarded with the presidency, Al Gore would have been America's 43rd president. (Problems with the Electoral College can favor Republicans as well. In 2004, George W. Bush got over 3 million more votes than John Kerry, but Kerry came within less than 130,000 votes in Ohio from winning the presidency.) Unfortunately, our country relies on the Electoral College, an atavistic system that was created at a time when women and minorities couldn't vote and long before the Supreme Court enshrined "one person one vote" into law.
In a worst case scenario like 2000, the Electoral College damages our democracy by thwarting the clearly expressed will of most American voters. But, even when the Electoral College does not directly decide the outcome of presidential elections, it harms our democracy. Currently, presidential campaigns are designed to get 270 electoral votes. Both major parties tend to write-off certain "safe" states like New York (safely Democratic in recent elections) or Texas (safely Republican in recent elections) and concentrate all their resources in "swing states" like Ohio and Florida. This means that a majority of Americans are virtually ignored by our candidates (except for constant requests for money), while those who live in swing-states receive a disproportionate amount of attention.
To make this concrete, in 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain both knew Obama would win New York. As a result, after August 1, 2008, neither Obama nor McCain had a single public appearance in New York and the campaigns spent less than $4,000 advertising in the State. In contrast, the candidates had 12 separate events in Nevada, a state which has 8 times fewer people than New York.
More than 70 percent of Americans want to fix this situation by passing the National Popular Vote bill. The bill has been passed by legislative bodies in more than 20 states. Fortunately, I believe that the bill will soon be passed in New York.
The unfortunate reality is that New York's State government has become notoriously broken in recent years. Our State is plagued by a crushing budget deficit, and corruption and dysfunction. But there are also many honest people in Albany and we recently elected several reformers - I believe our State will soon lead the way in passing the National Vote Bill.
In fact, the New York State Senate just passed the Bill in bipartisan fashion by a margin of 52-7. The Bill now has to pass through the Assembly. Fortunately, New York's State Assembly is traditionally much more progressive than the Senate (for example, marriage equality and campaign finance reform have repeatedly passed in the Assembly - only to die in the Senate). Even better, the National Popular Vote Bill currently has 79 sponsors and needs only 76 votes to pass. The National Popular Vote Bill will almost certainly become law shortly after leadership brings it up for a vote.
New York's State Legislature still has to resolve a multibillion dollar budget gap, so passing this important piece of reform is not the top priority for most legislators. However, there is still a good chance that the Bill will be passed in 2010 - and - barring another coup or unforeseen breakdown of New York's State government - the National Popular Vote Bill will definitely pass by the end of 2011.
It is important to note that New York's National Popular Vote Bill would only take effect if it is passed in other states. So, regardless of where you live, I urge you to contact your state legislators to enact this important reform.
[image via Kenn Wilson]