Tuesday, September 25, 2007

California Electoral College Measure News

Professor Rick Hasen has this op-ed about the California electoral college ballot initiative.
The Electoral College measure, if passed, could well swing the 2008 presidential election to the Republican nominee. Currently, California allocates all of its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the most votes among California voters in the November election...Proposed by Republican election lawyer Tom Hiltachk, the initiative would do the same. Although California overall is a “blue” state expected to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, there are enough Republican-leaning electoral districts to give up to 20 electoral college votes to the Republican nominee – enough to swing a close national election for president to the Republican.

Democrats argue that the measure is unfair, amounting to unilateral disarmament. Unless a large “red” state such as Texas were to adopt a similar plan, too, this change would have a distinct partisan skew to favor Republicans. Republicans, unsurprisingly, are not advocating the plan in Texas. Some Democrats instead are lining up behind an initiative adopting the national popular vote plan, which would create an agreement among states to allocate all of their Electoral College votes behind the winner of the popular vote for president nationally.

Despite the partisan implications of the Hiltachk measure, early polling shows it is supported by a majority of Californians, including California Democrats (a situation that likely would change if Democrats advertised heavily against it). What makes the measure more likely to pass is that if it qualifies for the ballot, it would be voted upon by the electorate at the June primary election (not at the February primary election for president), a ballot that will have very little on it in an election with an expected low turnout. If Republicans turn out to vote for the Electoral College measure and Democrats stay home, there's a real chance the measure would pass.

Here's where harnessing Democratic self-interest for good government reform comes in. If two-thirds of the Legislature approve (which would require Democrats to get the votes of a few Republicans), California voters in February could be asked to change the state constitution to provide that ballot measures be voted upon only during general elections, unless the governor calls a special election. Gone would be votes on major state proposals during low-turnout primary elections, when the electorate is less representative of the people. California ballot measures often make major changes in state policy; it seems only right to schedule them during elections when a larger (and more representative) portion of the electorate turns out to vote.
Yes, Democrats could make that change in the state law regarding ballot initiatives, but that may not be a good idea, because there will come a time when Democrats themselves may want to take advantage of a low-turnout primary to get an iniative passed.

All this is beside the point, if the ballot measure qualifies and it almost certainly will, Democrats will begin heavily advertising against it and the measure will close up significantly. Still, it would be a major change and could impact how candidates campaign in the biggest state in the union.

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