On Monday, August 8, Governor Jerry Brown finally signed a bill the California state legislature had passed in July—a bill that binds California to “National Popular Vote” (NPV). Which is to say, to the committing of all its electoral college votes in a presidential election to the winner of the nation’s popular vote. In other words, regardless of which candidate carried California, the electors are directed to vote for the candidate who carries the nation.
It’s always been something of a nutty idea, probably unconstitutional and certainly contrary to the Founders’ notion of elections. It would encourage third party regional and favorite son candidates, while increasing the cost of elections. Besides, it lacks enforcement mechanisms to keep faithless electors from voting whichever way they please—and it would probably create slews of such electors. Attempts, like this one, to make end runs around the Constitution always have unintended consequences, and if the proposal ended up influencing the election, it would almost certainly end up at the Supreme Court, which isn’t, under our electoral scheme, supposed to decide elections.
Not that we’re in immediate danger. The NPV proposal doesn’t go into effect until the sum total of the electoral college votes of the states which have enacted the proposal reach the necessary total of votes for victory in the electoral college. That’s currently 270 votes, and California’s 55 electoral votes, when added to those of the seven other states and the District of Columbia which have passed similar legislation, bring the current NPV total to only 142.
But Kate Havard’s story on Obama’s electoral vulnerabilities—“Nine Is Enough,” in THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s current issue—gets one to thinking. The impulse behind the National Popular Vote proposal is, of course, the 2000 election, in which the once-plausible Al Gore (remember when Gore seemed, like, a relatively sane person?) won the popular vote but lost the electoral college and thus the presidency.
The proposal has some Republican supporters—Fred Thompson used to stump about it—but the California bill, like those in most of the other states, was pushed forwarded and passed by Democrats. People, in other words, who’ve never quite gotten over Florida in 2000.
So, what would happen to California’s electors if we have enough states passing the proposal by 2012?
At a guess, based on the states in Harvard’s story, there’s at least a small chance that California’s 55 electoral college votes would push the Republican candidate over the top. The votes, one assumes, of a state that otherwise would be carried by the Democratic candidate.
Another fine irony you’ve gotten us into, as Laurel and Hardy might have said.