Report

Will States Topple Electoral College?

  • June 09, 2008
  • By Pamela M. Prah

First it was the presidential primary calendar that state legislatures across the country upended to give their voters a greater say this year in choosing candidates. Now a few states are orchestrating an overhaul of the way voters select the U.S. president.

Voters this fall will still use the Electoral College to determine the next occupant of the White House, but a movement is bubbling at the state level to bypass the process and instead ensure that future presidents are the candidates who get the most votes nationwide -- an outcome not always guaranteed under the current system.

Maryland last year became the first state to approve a "national popular vote" compact that would allocate all of its 10 electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, rather than to the candidate who garners the most votes in the state, as is the case under the Electoral College.

New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois have since followed suit and passed laws that would allot their collective 40 electoral votes the same way. Identical bills are moving in Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island, which have a total of 62 electoral votes.

These bills do nothing on their own and would take effect only when states that collectively have at least 270 electoral votes pass identical measures, since a candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Those who remember their history classes know that American voters don't directly elect a president -- states do through "electors" who typically vote for the candidate who drew the most votes in their state.

"Why are all the other elections in this country based on the popular vote except for the most important one, the presidency?" asks Barry F. Fadem, president of the National Popular Vote, a group based in California that aims to persuade state legislatures to implement a nationwide popular election of the president. He called today's system "flat-out, wrong" and expressed optimism that enough states will pass the legislation in time for the 2012 presidential election.

Read the full report Will States Topple Electoral College? on Stateline.org's Web site