At a recent League of Women Voters meeting, Richard Finn from the Compact for a National Popular Vote, laid out an interesting plan for ensuring that the person who wins the popular vote becomes president.
At a recent meeting of the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters (LWV), Richard Finn, the New York representative for the Compact for a National Popular Vote, laid out a proposal that would reform the Electoral College without an amendment to the constitution and guarantee that the winner of the popular vote became president. His proposal, in brief, is that the states and the District of Columbia enter into voluntary interstate agreements to award all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. This proposal would avoid situations such as we had in the year 2000 when the candidate who won the popular vote (Gore) was not elected president by the Electoral College, he said. [This also happened three times in the 1800s.] Finn said, "This is a proposal to reform the Electoral College, not to eliminate it."
The advantage of this strategy, said Finn, is that it avoids waiting for the laborious and time-consuming process of a constitutional amendment. He reminded the group that the constitution does not guarantee to individual Americans the right to vote for the president; rather, that right is granted to the states in the second article. In fact, he said, "The original Electoral College was not elected by the people; it was selected by the legislature." Finn further pointed out that all the major election reforms in this country have begun in the states; for example, the rights of women, minorities, and non-property owners to vote.
Finn said that this proposal would ensure that attention is paid to all voters regardless of the state in which they live. He pointed out that in the last 20 years over 90 percent of the presidential campaign resources have been spent in about a dozen selected states (the "swing" states). States that are solidly in the "red" or "blue" column-like New York-get little or no attention from presidential candidates. He asked rhetorically, "Have you ever seen the TV ads that your contributions paid for?" He added, "Volunteers from New York were making telephone calls to Oregon." Finn commented that the current system also influences public policy. He gave the example of environmental policy, where environmental protection laws that would anger Michigan voters are not passed, whereas ethanol, which comes from corn, which is grown in Iowa, is strongly supported by the candidates. Finn argued that a big benefit of the proposed electoral system would be that every voter would know that his or her vote truly counted. In addition, he said that it may reduce the election abuses that have taken place in critical places like Florida, where he personally observed voters, and in particular African-American voters being intimidated and otherwise discouraged from voting.
Finn said that the organization has been successful in signing up 11 states, both large and small, and expects that other states will come on board soon. Each of these states has agreed that the winner of the nationwide popular vote will be granted all of that state's Electoral College votes. In New York state, discussions are just beginning. (Finn said that it was "the worst possible time" in New York, because the governor and the chairs of the legislative bodies all changed.) The New York Times, among other news publications, has endorsed the Compact for a National Popular Vote.
The proposal elicited a lot of discussion and some skepticism among the LWV members. Some were not sure that all of the states would "sign on" to this compact, especially the smaller ones, who now have a disproportionate weight in the Electoral College. (In order to make this effective, states comprising of at least 270 electoral votes would have to sign up.) Others asked about the alternative possibility of assigning the Electoral College votes proportionately to the popular vote. Still others commented that they would prefer to eliminate the Electoral College completely via a constitutional amendment. Finn defended his group's position, and asked for the LWV's support on a regional and a statewide basis.
Richard Finn has had a long career in politics and public policy analysis. He served as the assistant director of the Gore-Lieberman 2000 campaign for New York State. He was Parks Commissioner of Suffolk County in the late 1980s, during which time he was recognized for his ambitious county park acquisition program. Currently Finn is a consultant to government, with a specialty in computer systems and software. He lives in Babylon and Washington, DC.