The 2012 presidential election is officially in full swing, with the Republican Convention and the Democratic Convention complete and both presidential candidates working the campaign trails. Throughout the country, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are expected to spend over $1 billion, hosting rallies and flooding media outlets with advertising.
Yet despite being major contributors to both campaigns, Californians will likely see very little of that money. The state is not considered a ‘battleground’ and is typically neglected by both sides, who prefer to focus on swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Legislation signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown seeks to give California more electoral clout, however. The law is part of a multi-state effort to circumvent the Electoral College system, the United States’s electoral system that confers disproportionate power on sparsely-populated and swing states.
Under the Electoral College system, most states gives all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote within the state. In California, that’s been a Democrat in every election since 1988.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-CityTKSan Mateo) notes that in the 2008 election, Barack Obama and John McCain raised over $150 million from California but put less than $30,000 back in the state.
“Candidates and government address issues related to the battleground states,” said Hill, who sponsored the legislation in the Assembly in 2011. “Issues that are important to Californians such as biotech, agriculture and immigration reform are ignored.”
The National Popular Vote law would give California’s 55 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Implementation relies on an “Interstate Compact” where states representing a majority of Electoral College votes, 270, must sign on in order for the agreement to take effect. If the movement succeeds, those states would wield enough power to ensure that the national popular vote winner becomes President.
Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, Washington state and Washington D.C have all signed on in addition to California, bringing the movement about halfway to its needed threshold.
Hill envisions a future in which candidates wooing Californians would be less likely to support off-shore drilling, and more likely to support high-tech businesses and California agriculture.
Potential agriculture boosts were not enough to sway Assemblyman Dan Logue, a Republican representing rural Humboldt County, however. For Logue, the legislation represents a partisan move by Democrats to gain additional power.
“I believe it will devastate the Republican Party in California and put an end to any prospect of the GOP making gains in the legislature or constitutional offices,” said Logue in a column published by FlashReport.
Logue noted that the proposal would increase the voting power of people in large coastal cities, who tend to lean leftward, while lessening the power of rural states.
Though Hill insists that the interstate compact represents “a bipartisan effort,” all of the states that have signed on so far are traditionally-blue states.
According to Graeme Boushey, a Professor of Political Science at UC Irvine, the lack of significant Republican support may stem from the election of 2000, where Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election due to the Electoral College system.
Boushey said the proposal still stands a good chance of success because it only relies on the support of states that would benefit from such a move. Smaller states or swing states can still allocate their Electoral College votes in the same manner if they choose.
The new model could create complications in a close election, Boushey said.
If the national popular vote is close, for example, California may want to wait for a national recount before allocating its Electoral College votes. But other states would not be obliged to follow suit.
Regardless of the challenges of implementing what would be an unprecedented move in American history, Hill still hopes the 2016 election can be California’s chance to re-enter the national stage.
If not, he says the state is doomed to continue its role as “the ATM machine but nothing more.”