Thursday, August 31, 2006

presidential election changes

On the news this morning, I heard a one-sentence blurb that California's Assembly had passed a bill allocating the state's electoral college votes to the winner of the popular vote. "Huh?," thought I, "this needs more investigation."

The bill in question is AB 2948 (Umberg, 2006), which you can read at Be sure to look at the most recent version. This analysis is based on the one amended August 10, 2006.

The bill's designed to address the situation we occasionally have, most recently in the 2000 election, where the popular vote goes one way but the electoral college vote goes the other. Essentially, it eliminates the electoral college's effect without eliminating the electoral college, a change which would require amending the constitution and which states with small populations would likely oppose.*

The bill's rather clever in its approach. It does not take effect until enough states to control a majority of the electoral votes pass essentially the same law. Once that happens, the law activates for every state that passed it and requires that state to cast its electoral votes for whoever won of the popular vote. States may withdraw from the agreement, but not right before an election.

* The electoral college gives every state, regardless of population, two extra votes because every state has two Senators. (See Art. II, Sec. 1 of the U.S. Constitution for details of the electoral college's composition.) For states with big populations, which already have a lot of Representatives, those two votes don't add much. But for small states, those extra two votes give them more power than they'd have if their influence were based purely on population.

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