We need a 50-state campaign for President of the United States.
Shortly after the 2004 elections, Chris Bowers of the progressive blog MyDD wrote an optimistic post titled “Fifty State Strategy.” In the piece, he expressed relief that in 2006, “there will be no Presidential election, and thus as a party we can return to a truly national focus.” It is a shrewd, but telling observation that today more than ever, the current system of electing the President is a disservice to voters.
Howard Dean’s “50-State Strategy” was controversial enough for a midterm election, as some party leaders feared it would “squander” the resources needed to win seats. Now, throw a presidential race into the mix — a time when both parties concentrate their resources into the handful of battleground states that sway the Electoral College. What good is a 50-state strategy when 60,000 votes in Ohio are more influential than 3.5 million nationwide?
This limited strategy requires that candidates running for the nation’s highest office completely ignore three-quarters of the states, including the three most populous: California, Texas, and New York. Democrats and Republicans alike should ask, “Why are our national leaders elected by only reaching out to a fraction of our states?” It seems inherently illogical, and it is.
The Electoral College has outlived whatever positive role it once played as a choice of convenience and compromise. Long overdue, the President and Vice President should be chosen by the same method every other elective office in this country is filled, namely by citizen voters of the United States in a system which counts each vote equally.
I have felt this way for some time. 30 years ago last month, I introduced a proposed Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College and provide for direct election of the President and Vice President. As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, I held hearings, received testimony from 38 witnesses (not to mention hundreds of pages of additional statements and academic studies), and amassed nearly 2,600 pages of research on the need for electoral reform.
To me and others involved with this process, it became clear that while the Founding Founders had incredible wisdom and foresight, they were dealing with a much different society. The Electoral College was designed for the realities of their time, not ours. The landmass of the country was huge; travel and communication were arduous and primitive; and education was limited at best. Lack of information about possible Presidential candidates among the general public was a very real consideration. Also, there were issues involving slavery. At the time, 90% of the slave population lived in the South. Since the slaves could not vote, the South faced electoral domination from Northern states. While not the first choice of any Founder, the weighted Electoral College system solved these tricky considerations with a compromise which allowed them to complete the monumental task of creating our country’s Constitution.
As you know, my proposed Amendment never joined this revered document, and instead became one of the estimated 704 attempts to do away with the Electoral College. Still today, I am even more firmly convinced that some positive action must be taken.
That is why I am currently involved with the campaign to pass National Popular Vote legislation in our country’s state capitols. Instead of abolishing the Electoral College, National Popular Vote legislation renders it obsolete. The Constitution provides the states with the power to assign its electors in the manner they see fit. The plan is to adopt legislation in each state that automatically assigns electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of the winner in the state. The National Popular Vote bill would not take effect until it is enacted, in identical form, by states cumulatively possessing a majority of the electoral votes.
If enough states were to do this, the winner of the national popular vote will always become president. The state lines that cause votes to be weighed differently will be erased. A Republican vote in Michigan will be as substantial as one in Ohio. A Democratic vote in Florida becomes equal to one in Georgia.
I am posting here today because National Popular Vote legislation relies on the grassroots. It is a bottom-up strategy, going from state capitols to Washington D.C. In the current state legislative sessions, the National Popular Vote bill has 233 sponsors in 47 states.
The National Popular Vote bill can restore relevance, democracy, and the will of the people. Americans have long desired this reform, as Gallup polls have shown strong public support for direct election of the President for over five decades. But the most compelling reason for directly electing our president and vice president is one of principle. In the United States every vote must count equally. One person, one vote is more than a clever phrase; it’s the cornerstone of justice and equality.
In my view, every presidential election year should have a national focus, but as a former candidate myself, I cannot overlook the tactical considerations needed to win the Electoral College.
You can help change that by telling your state legislators that our presidents should be elected directly by the people. Ask that they sponsor and vote for National Popular Vote legislation in your state. After all, there is no better time for a 50-state strategy than the year in which we elect a president.