State joins Electoral College pact

Elections: Law backs winner of popular vote

April 29, 2009 

STATE CAPITOL AT NIGHT

The Washington State Capitol in Olympia. (Tony Overman/The Olympian)

Washington voters favored Al Gore for president in 2000, and so did a majority of U.S. voters. Yet George W. Bush was sworn in as president because he won the Electoral College vote.

It was the fourth time in history that an elected president didn’t win the popular vote.

Under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Washington will pledge its 11 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Washington joins a small but growing compact of states including Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey that allocate their votes that way.

The chairman of the nonprofit group National Popular Vote, John Koza, who wrote a book titled “Every Vote Equal,” was at the Capitol to witness the signing. The law means 61 electoral votes nationwide now will go to the popular-vote winner, almost one-quarter of the way to 270 electoral votes, the majority needed to activate the compact.

“It is a big deal. It shows momentum. It shows support. It’s a clean government state,” Koza said of Washington, the first state in the West to join the compact. “We hope to get this in time for the 2012 election. We have bill sponsors now in all 50 states.”

Many Republicans in the state Legislature opposed the bill, including Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger, who complained that the 50 states and District of Columbia offer choices of candidates and have different rules for who can vote and when voters can register. So votes are not all equal in a popular-vote system.

Secretary of State Sam Reed also dislikes the compact idea. He did not ask Gregoire to veto Senate Bill 5599, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe McDermott of West Seattle, because Reed is skeptical that it ever will take effect, spokesman David Ammons said.

Rob Richie, a former Olympia resident who helped launch the popular-vote campaign as the leader of Maryland-based FairVote, said it’s a matter of fairness. Unlike past efforts to change the Electoral College system, this effort doesn’t require amending the U.S. Constitution.

“Washington state’s action in advancing the National Popular Vote plan is just the latest indication of the power of this straightforward proposal to give all Americans an equal vote for president and an equal opportunity to hold the White House accountable,” Richie said in an e-mail.

Twenty-seven legislative chambers have adopted the concept nationally, including the Michigan House late last year and the Oregon House this month.

David John Anderson, a Shaw Island resident who managed the initiative campaign that created the state’s “top two” primary, asked Gregoire to veto the bill. He also crafted a veto stamp to give to the governor.

“They shouldn’t be doing this in a crisis session. This hasn’t been thought out. No one has looked at the population growth rates of other states,” Anderson said. “Of the 10 fastest-growing states, eight are red states. Washington is going to lose in this thing.”

Reed has argued that the Electoral College helps draw presidential candidates to smaller states such as Washington to talk about local issues, because candidates need the state’s electoral votes.

But Richie, a co-author of Koza’s book, said the argument that the Electoral College helps send candidates to smaller states is weak. A recent study by FairVote showed that states such as Washington are becoming less like electoral battlegrounds, and presidential campaigns typically skip them as a result.

Washington tied with 24 other states for the least attention paid by national candidates in 2008, including few campaign ads, and it was one of 32 states that received no peak-season visits by the candidates, FairVote’s study showed.

Voter Richard E. Johnson Jr., a self-styled independent voter from Lacey, testified in favor of the compact in the Legislature.

“Whoopee!” Johnson said in an e-mail to The Olympian. “We in Washington state finally have the potential – when other states join the pact and we gain ‘critical mass’ – to have our individual votes count for the presidential candidate of our choice. The concept of choosing delegates to the Electoral College by the ‘winning’ political party has been outmoded since the extensive use of the telegraph after the Civil War.”

ELECTORAL FACTS

Correction: Corrected to omit reference to 1900 election when Washington favored William McKinley, who defeated William Jennings Bryan. Office of the Secretary of State's data was correct.

States in the National Popular Vote compact: Washington (11 Electoral College votes), Hawaii (four), Illinois (21), Maryland (10) and New Jersey (15)

Electoral College votes pledged: 61

Electoral College votes needed to activate the compact: 270

Washington has voted for the presidential candidate who lost the national election eight times, according to the state Office of the Secretary of State.

1892: Benjamin Harrison, lost to Grover Cleveland

1896: William Jennings Bryan, lost to William McKinley

1912: Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party), lost to Woodrow Wilson

1960: Richard Nixon, lost to John F. Kennedy

1968: Hubert Humphrey, lost to Richard Nixon

1976: Gerald Ford, lost to Jimmy Carter

1988: Michael Dukakis, lost to George H.W. Bush

2004: John Kerry, lost to George W. Bush

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