State eyes switch to popular vote
SACRAMENTO (AP) – Frustrated that presidential candidates have spent so little time in California, lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation to change how the state awards its electoral votes for president.
The bill approved 49-31 mostly along party lines in the Assembly would pledge California’s 55 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, a system critics charged was an attempt to circumvent the U.S. Constitution.
However, if the bill became law in California, it only would take effect if states with a combined total of 270 electoral votes – the number now required to win the presidency – also agreed to decide the election by popular vote.
The interstate compact the Assembly authorized is part of a national campaign launched in February by a Los Altos nonprofit to change the way the nation picks a president.
“Presidential candidates would have to come to California because of our population and they would have to take a position on issues that we care about,” Assemblyman Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, said on the Assembly floor.
The Constitution requires each state to select its own Electoral College delegates in presidential races. California currently awards its votes based on the state popular vote, as do most other states.
Backers of the compact say presidential candidates should be forced to campaign before all voters, not just those in so-called battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.
In 2004, California voters cast more than 10 percent of the nation’s votes for president, but major presidential or vice-presidential candidates visited the state just twice in the last month of the campaign, according to a committee analysis of the bill.
Republicans called the compact an “end run” around the U.S. Constitution.
“The Constitution of the United States was very specific that every state shall have a republican form of government,” said Assemblyman Chuck Devore, R-Irvine. “It’s not a direct democracy. Direct democracies were probably seen by the founding fathers as unstable.”
Instead, Devore said California should consider apportioning its electoral votes by congressional district, an approach the Assembly has previously rejected as a partisan move to split California’s votes.
A compact agreement would require California to give its electoral votes to the winner of the national vote regardless of which presidential candidate state voters select.
Critics said a popular vote system would send presidential candidates only to the most populous cities, shutting out rural America.
“I don’t want a candidate to go to 10 to 12 big urban centers and walk away with the presidency,” said Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Fresno.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill, spokesman Darrel Ng said.
Democrats said the votes shouldn’t fall along party lines. A committee analysis shows Democrat John Kerry would have won the presidency in 2004 if he had won Ohio, which he lost by about 118,000 votes to President Bush, who got 2.8 million more votes nationwide. Under the compact, California’s electoral college votes would have gone to Bush in that case, they said.
Barry Fadem, an attorney with the National Popular Vote campaign, said the group hopes to find lawmakers to carry their bill in each state by the end of the year.
“People really care about how we elect the president of the United States,” Fadem said.
The Colorado Senate in April voted to ratify the compact. The proposal also is being considered in four other states – New York, Louisiana, Illinois and Missouri.
The bill is AB 2948.
Also Tuesday, the Assembly approved:
– A bill by Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa, that would require people convicted of drunken driving to show up for their court sentencing. Current law allows attorneys to represent their clients before judges, which La Suer said relinquishes accountability. Critics of AB 2174 said many people could be fired for skipping work to show up for multiple court dates.
– A bill by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, that would require school districts preparing to buy facilities to identify whether they emit any hazardous air or contain hazardous substances. Backers said AB 2825 was needed to protect schoolchildren from harmful chemicals. Critics said the Legislature was adding burdensome regulations.
– A bill by Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, that would increase the penalties for reckless driving and street racing. Benoit said illegal street racing risks drivers’ lives and drains local law enforcement resources. AB 2190 would raise the penalty to a possible felony.
– A bill by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, that would require property sellers to disclose any reports of environmental hazards on the property. Backers said buyers should be aware of the potential hazards of their new home. The bill is AB 2228.
– A bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, that would require manufacturers to put wattage labels on electronic devices such as cable boxes, cell phone charges and DVD players to inform customers about the amount of energy these small electronics use even when they are turned off. The bill is AB 1970.
On the Net: Read the bills at http://www.assembly.ca.gov
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