Group aims to make Electoral College more "popular"

Lindsey Parietti

Leaders of a national campaign to elect the president by popular vote are hoping to gain ground in Massachusetts, a state proponents say has largely been ignored by presidential candidates who spend most of their time and money in states that don't have a strong party allegiance.

Although leaders of the National Popular Vote Campaign say the issue is resonating with voters across the country, local lawmakers are less than enthusiastic about the proposed legislation.

If Massachusetts joins Maryland, the first state to sign the inter-state compact into law, it would have to cast its 12 Electoral College votes for the nationwide popular vote winner, as opposed to the candidate who wins the state majority.

``If you're born a Republican in Massachusetts you could die without your vote ever meaning anything,'' said Maryland Democratic state Sen. Jamin Raskin. ``Every democracy in the world elects its president by popular vote.''

The new system would have produced different results in 2000 when Al Gore lost the election to George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote, and again in 2004 when Bush's comfortable 3.5 million vote margin translated to a narrow win in the Electoral College.

According to Raskin, who testified at a State House hearing yesterday, the advantage of the bill is that states will work through the Electoral College rather than trying, as many failed attempts have, to abolish the college with a constitutional amendment.

The national compact would not take effect until enough states to control the majority of Electoral College votes have passed it into law.

Greg Casey, aide to Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, said the senator has met with proponents, but has not yet taken a position.

``The popular vote can go either way. It's not something that either party has a claim to,'' said Casey, who believes it is one of the few truly bipartisan issues.

``I haven't put it at the top of my priority list,'' said Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, who would prefer awarding electoral votes according to the percentages each party wins. ``The fact that Massachusetts could go 70 (percent for one party) and 30 (percent) in the other direction and still have to exercise all of its electoral votes toward the 30. ... Something about this has left me feeling not right.''

At the Election Laws Committee hearing yesterday, chairman Sen. Edward Augustus, D-Worcester, worried the proposal would force candidates to focus on densely populated cities and states, still leaving small and rural states on the sidelines.

``There's been a lot of issues on the Legislature's agenda and this one hasn't been able to be on the front burner,'' said Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, who added her name to the bill's sponsors after hearing from constituents.

Barry Fadem, the campaign's president, believes the 20-25 states needed to control the Electoral College will adopt the compact before the 2012 election.

But Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin, the state's chief election officer, was skeptical, saying it would be a ``somewhat difficult hurdle'' to get enough states to sign on at all.

It is unlikely the compact will gain momentum if so-called swing states - states such as New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Florida where candidates compete for an electorate that could go either way - reject the idea of a national popular vote.

``I agree with the impetus behind the National Popular Vote push, particularly as Massachusetts is considered by some to be a `spectator state' when it comes to the electoral college,'' said Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland in a written statement. ``Massachusetts voters are informed, engaged and involved, and therefore every single one of our votes should count!''

MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News staff writer Lindsey Parietti can be reached at lpariett@cnc.com.

AT A GLANCE

  • So far Maryland is the only state to adopt the legislation that has been introduced in 47 states since 2006.
  • The bill passed through the Hawaii and California legislatures, but was vetoed by their governors. Illinois lawmakers also passed the bill, which is awaiting the governor's signature.