Anti-Electoral College Pact Could Expand

The Electoral College is a frequently discussed, and often criticized, way of choosing the president. Hoping to bypass it, some states believe they've come up with a better method.

As The Boston Globe reports today (July 20), Massachusetts could become the sixth state — along with Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland and Washington — to pass legislation that would skip the Electoral College system altogether. Under the new plan, the state would hand all of its 12 electors to the winner of the national popular vote, even if that candidate didn't win in Massachusetts itself.

The proposal — being pushed in legislatures around the country by an organization called National Popular Vote — wouldn't take effect until enough states have passed identical legislation. The cutoff mark is the 270 electoral votes needed for any candidate to claim the presidency.

Thirty legislative chambers in 19 states have passed the legislation, according to National Popular Vote, though it remains relatively rare for the bills to become law. The five states that have enacted the legislation account for 61 electoral votes, or 23 percent of the total needed for the compact to go into effect.

Massachusetts would push those totals up to 73 electoral votes, or 27 percent of what is required, but it is not certain that the bill will become law. The legislation has passed both chambers, but final votes are still required and it is unclear whether Governor Deval Patrick would sign it if it reaches his desk. Similar legislation cleared both chambers in Massachusetts in 2008, but never reached the governor.

The idea behind bypassing the Electoral College is to prevent a repeat of the 2000 presidential election, which Republican George W. Bush won on electoral votes despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore. Supporters say that the plan would ensure that every vote counts equally, rather than having the voters of just one state — like Florida in 2000 — decide the outcome nationally. Opponents have voiced numerous complaints, including that presidential candidates simply wouldn't bother to visit rural or relatively unpopulated areas and would cater only to urban centers.

Stateline examined the national popular vote idea in 2008, not long after Maryland became the first state to embrace it.