Thursday, 02 February 2023

Thompson: More partisanship disguised as

Though it hasn’t yet hit the streets and shopping malls, a prominent Republican lawyer in Sacramento recently submitted to the Attorney General a potentially explosive initiative that could guarantee Republican control of the White House for the next generation.


The measure, benignly entitled the “Presidential Election Reform Act,” would radically change the way California counts its electoral votes in presidential elections.


In order to get elected President, you need 270 electoral votes. With 55, California has far more than any other state in the nation. To put it in perspective, California alone has more electoral votes than most of the rest of the western states combined – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.


Instead of the “winner take all” method that currently awards all 55 California electors to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes, this Republican proposal would give just two electoral votes to the top vote-getter. The other 53 electors would be given to the winning candidate in each of California’s 53 congressional districts.


What would be the result of this modest-sounding change? Well, in the 2004 election, George Bush was the top vote-getter in 22 Congressional districts in California. That means he would have gotten more electoral votes in California than John Kerry got for winning Illinois or Pennsylvania.


In other words, it’s a clever partisan maneuver designed to appear like “reform,” while ensuring the election of Republican presidential candidates.


The Republicans even think they’ve figured out how to make this little stink-bomb smell good. They argue it will force presidential candidates to campaign in California because they can’t take the state – which has reliably voted for the Democrat in the last four presidential elections – for granted.


That sounds good – and it’s the same logic that led the Legislature to move up the date of the presidential primary to February 8 next year. But it’s a smokescreen.


The fact is, people have been unhappy with the electoral college for a long time. Since 1889 there have been nearly 600 proposed constitutional amendments on the subject of the electoral college introduced in Congress – more than on any other subject.


Following Richard Nixon’s narrow, 500,000-vote win in 1968, a proposed constitutional amendment calling for direct popular elections passed the House, but failed in the Senate.


More recently, there was a lot of talk about reforming the electoral college after the highly controversial 2000 presidential election, when George Bush became the first president in 112 years to lose the popular vote, but win in the electoral college.


But if the goal is to get the candidates to campaign in California, the simplest way to accomplish it is to eliminate the electoral college altogether. Since California has more voters than any state, candidates will have to campaign here.


Direct popular elections would give California voters a lot more say in choosing our president. After all, under the electoral college system, a California voter has significantly less electoral clout than a voter in less populous states. California has more than 650,000 people for every electoral vote. In Wyoming, though, there is one electoral vote per 168,000 people.


If the goal is to get rid of the “winner take all” system used in California, let’s get rid of it

everywhere. That’s the only fair way to do it.


But the hidden agenda of the proponents of the Presidential Election Reform Act isn’t fairness. It’s not even to increase California’s clout in the presidential election process.


Their goal is to ensure partisan Republican control of the White House. It may even be to continue the ill-conceived and disastrously managed war in Iraq.


So beware the next time you see one of those friendly paid signature gatherers on the street. Read the fine print. Ask questions. Then keep on walking. The best way to stop the Republicans’ latest cynical ploy is to keep it from getting on the ballot.


Mike Thompson represents California’s 1st Congressional District.


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