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Senate backs plan to give electoral votes to popular vote winner

Don Thompson

SACRAMENTO (AP) – California would cast its 55 Electoral College votes for the winner of the national popular vote under a bill designed to change the way the president is elected and increase the state’s influence in national elections.

The bill, approved Tuesday by the Senate, would help draw candidates to the nation’s most populous state for intensive campaigning, said Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, who carried the bill in the Senate.

California is a crucial stopover on presidential candidates’ fundraising tours but often is otherwise ignored because it is considered to be safely Democratic.

The bill’s supporters want candidates to pay more attention to California, rather than devoting most of their energies to a handful of swing states.

The bill, which goes back to the Assembly for a final vote, would make California part of an interstate compact. The multistate agreement is part of a national campaign started in February by National Popular Vote, a nonprofit based in the Silicon Valley city of Los Altos that seeks to change the way the nation picks a president.

“The founding fathers didn’t get everything right,” Bowen said, calling the Electoral College “a dinosaur.”

Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, called the proposal “brazenly unconstitutional.”

He and Republican state Senators Dennis Hollingsworth of La Mesa and Jeff Denham of Merced said the founding fathers settled on compromise that does not include a direct popular vote for president. They said the effort to tie electoral votes to the popular vote violates that portion of the Constitution.

“We don’t have a democracy; we have a constitutional republic,” Hollingsworth said.

If it eventually becomes law, the legislation would take effect only if states with a combined 270 electoral votes – the number now required to win the presidency – also agreed to decide the election by popular vote. Similar legislation is pending in Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri.

California currently awards its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state popular vote, as do most other states. While a plurality of the state’s voters are registered as Democrats, giving all California’s electoral votes to the popular winner could swing the state to a Republican.

The movement is a reaction to the 2000 presidential contest, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidency to George W. Bush, who won more Electoral College votes. Gore also won California that year.

In 2004, major presidential or vice presidential candidates visited California just twice in the campaign’s last month, even though the state’s voters cast more than 10 percent of the nation’s votes for president, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Bowen, who is running for secretary of state, said voters in California and other afterthought states have less interest in elections than those in key states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The bill passed along party lines, 23-14. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill, spokesman Darrel Ng said.

On the Net:

Read AB2948 at http://www.assembly.ca.gov


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