Senator Feinstein Calls for Abolishing the Electoral College And Establishing Direct Popular Election of the President
Aug 24 2007
San Francisco – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today announced that she will introduce a resolution to abolish the Electoral College and provide for the direct popular vote of the President. Senator Feinstein’s announcement comes against the backdrop of a bid in California to qualify a ballot initiative that would skew the outcome of Presidential elections.
“This proposed California initiative is very dangerous – it is an attempt to tinker with state law in order to influence the outcome of national Presidential elections,” Senator Feinstein said.
“There is no question that our system of electing a President is outmoded, but this initiative is not the way to do it. I believe that the Electoral College must be abolished, and that the President be elected through direct popular election.”
“Under the current system, it is possible for a Presidential candidate to lose the popular vote, but to be elected by the Electoral College. This has happened four times in the nation’s history, most recently in 2000.”
“And the current system enables a handful of states to become battleground states, and disenfranchises tens of millions of American voters in the most important election in the nation. By amending the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College, and replacing it with a system in which the winner is the candidate with the most votes nationwide, we will ensure that the method of electing the President and Vice President is fair and uniform.”
Currently, California gives all of its 55 electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote statewide. This method is used by almost all the states. Under the initiative drive being circulated in California, the state would give Presidential candidates one electoral vote for every Congressional district that they win, plus two electoral votes for whichever candidate gets the most votes in the state.
Only two small states – Maine and Nebraska – currently use this method.
Senator Feinstein will introduce the resolution in September, when the Senate returns from the August recess. She is chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees U.S. elections, and is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers proposed Constitutional amendments. Amending the Constitution requires a resolution approved by two-thirds vote in the Congress, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the state Legislatures.
“The time has come to make this change. It will take time, but it is well worth it,” Senator Feinstein said.
“I am mindful that amending one of our nation’s most sacred documents requires careful thought, study and debate. I do not take such a proposal lightly. But the current law is archaic and denies Americans the full measure of this most fundamental right. The day of the Electoral College has come and gone, and that’s why I will be introducing legislation in the 110th Congress to abolish it.”
“Past attempts to abolish the Electoral College by amending the Constitution have run into difficulty. But I deeply believe that every vote should be treated equally regardless of the state in which it is cast.”
Under the current Electoral College system, which dates back to Colonial times:
- Candidates focus only on a handful of contested states and ignore the concerns of tens of millions of Americans living in other states;
- A candidate can lose in 39 states, but still win the Presidency;
- A candidate can lose the popular vote by more than 10 million votes, but still win the Presidency;
- A candidate can win 20 million votes in the general election, but win zero electoral votes, as happened to Ross Perot in 1992;
- A candidate can win a state’s vote, but an elector can refuse to represent the will of a majority of the voters in that state by voting arbitrarily for the losing candidate (this has reportedly happened 9 times since 1820);
- Smaller states have a disproportionate advantage over larger states because of the two “constant” or “senatorial” electors assigned to each state;
- In the event of a tie in the Electoral College, the outcome of the contingent election for President is decided by a single vote from each state’s delegation in the House of Representatives. This would unfairly grant California’s 37 million residents equal status with Wyoming’s 500,000 residents; and
- In case of such a deadlock, House members are not bound to vote for the candidate who won their state’s election, which has the potential to further distort the will of the majority.
Four candidates for President have won the White House despite having lost the popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824; Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; Benjamin Harrison in 1888; and George W. Bush in 2000.
Several states are currently exploring ways to enter into a compact to guarantee that the Presidential candidate receiving the most votes wins; that each vote counts the same; and that each vote is cast for whom it is cast.
This proposed "Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote" currently has 364 sponsors in 47 states for the 2007 state legislative sessions. Since there are 538 electoral votes in total, and a majority is 270, the compact would go into effect when enough states to cast the 270 Electoral College votes pass it.
It has been approved by the Maryland state legislature and signed into law. A similar bill was approved by the California state legislature in 2006, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. Several other state legislative bodies have passed the proposal this year:
- In Arkansas, Colorado, and North Carolina, one house of the state legislature has passed the proposal this year.
- In Hawaii and Illinois, both houses of the state legislature have passed the proposal this year. The Hawaii governor vetoed the legislation, but the legislature may try to override the veto. The Illinois governor is expected to sign the legislation, which would make Illinois the second state to enact the proposal into law.
- And in California, an effort has begun to place the issue before the voters in either June or November.