Democrats on Tuesday proposed putting on a 2008 ballot an initiative aimed at having California join the movement to elect presidents by popular vote.
The initiative, if successful, also would head off a Republican effort to get some of California’s electoral votes.
GOP consultants have proposed a separate initiative to change California’s winner-take-all system of awarding its 55 electoral votes. Under this measure, electoral votes would be awarded by how congressional districts vote, which could benefit the Republican nominee in this state with more registered Democrats.
If the competing measures make it onto the ballot in June or November, California could become a battleground over the electoral college, whose electors ultimately select the president and vice president. The state has more electoral votes than any other and more than 10% of the electoral college’s 538.
Democrats backing the initiative filed Tuesday think that electing presidents by national popular vote would help the their party’s nominee win the White House.
“A lot of people who lived through the 2000 election. . . feel pretty strongly that we ought to have a national popular vote,” said Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, among those pushing for the measure. “The electoral college is a vestige of another time period.”
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore received more of the popular vote than Republican George W. Bush, but failed to garner a majority of the electoral votes. Candidates who placed second in the popular vote also were elected president in 1888, 1876 and 1824.
A team of Democrats filed two virtually identical initiatives with the California attorney general’s office Tuesday, a first step to begin gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to place either measure on the June or November ballot. (One version contains a clause stating that if both the Democratic- and Republican-backed initiatives make it onto the ballot, the one with the most votes would take precedence.)
If backers gather sufficient signatures to place one of the Democratic measures on the ballot, and voters were to approve it, California would become one of roughly a dozen states to have embraced the concept of electing presidents by popular vote.
The national drive toward a popular vote would not scrap the electoral college system, but would require states to award their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the most actual votes nationally. It would take effect only if states representing a majority of the electoral votes agree to the change.
Although California is a Democratic state, Republicans hold 19 congressional seats, suggesting that the GOP presidential nominee could win at least 19 of the state’s electoral votes. A Field Poll released this week showed that the GOP-backed concept was supported by a ratio of 47% to 35%.
There is no definitive count of voter registration by party. Some states don’t ask party affiliation. But based on a recent Times/Bloomberg poll, 33% of voters nationally identified themselves as Democrats, 28% said they were Republicans, and the rest said they belonged to minor parties or declined to state.
Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the GOP measure, said the Democratic-backed initiative would leave Californians with little or no voice in U.S. politics. “If you ignore the congressional districts, there would be one big overwhelming national vote,” he said. “What matters in L.A. . . . won’t matter. It will be just one vote thrown into the mix.”