California ponders end run around Electoral College

Remember back in 2000 when George W. Bush was elected president, even though rival Al Gore won the popular vote?

If so, you’re not the only one: A number of Democrats – and some Republicans – want California to award its Electoral College votes in a presidential election to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The idea is to avoid elections in which the popular-vote winner loses the race because the rival candidate has more electoral votes. That, in turn, might give California, the nation’s most populous state, more clout in picking a president.

A bill to do exactly that faces the state Senate. Last week, the Assembly in a 43-18 vote passed AB 459 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-South San Francisco, which enables California to join in a compact with a number of other states and the District of Columbia to authorize the vote shift.

For the compact to work, it needs a total of 270 electoral votes by all of the states. Thus far, states with a total  of 77 electoral votes have decided to join the compact. Many states are waiting to see what California, with a trove of 55 electoral votes, is waiting to do.

“I think if voted, it would be a major positive effect on California. I think it will allow our voices to be heard in the national debate for president,” said Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair Jerry Hill who represents the 19th district. Hill says assuring the popular vote could have a major impact on important issues such as off-shore oil drilling and agricultural issues.
“The passage of the bill would make a big difference because California would be relevant in presidential elections,” says Hill. “Today the only thing we’re good for in a presidential election is for money,”

Senator Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, feels AB 459 would have a positive effect on California.

“Assembly Bill 459 will help to put California on a more balanced playing field with other states, so that we can attract national attention to issues that are unique to our state,” says Walters. “California is too large and our issues are too important to be ignored at the expense of those in battleground states.  AB459 is an issue of equity – our citizens deserve comparable national consideration as those in other states.”

Walters feels other issues are affected as well.

“The fact that our Central Valley has been intentionally deprived of water, causing the decimation of our agricultural industry, leading to local unemployment rates in excess of 30 percent, is unconscionable yet indicative of the absence of political importance Californians possess at the national level.”
Like Hill, Walters feels if AB459 is agreed on in all 50 states, some of our most prevalent issues could be relieved.

The bill was passed twice before and the governor vetoed the bill. If the Senate approves the bill and sends it to the governor’s desk – as expected – the focus will shift to Gov. Brown, who has not taken a position on the bill.

“It’s valid, it’s good public policy, it’s legal and it’s the right things to do for California,” says Hill.

Ed’s Note: Genevieve Jerome is a Capitol Weekly intern.

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