A Better Way to Hold a Presidential Election

Ditching the electoral college and letting the people decide.

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Do you think Al Gore should have been elected president in 2000 because he won the popular vote by nearly 554,000 votes but lost to George W. Bush in the Electoral College? Or are you of a mind that the election system should be left alone because it could only get more confusing?

Welcome to the growing debate over National Popular Vote, a private, nonpartisan effort which aims to convince state legislatures to switch to a system that guarantees that the popular vote winner becomes the president. “It’s so much easier just to leave it with the people,” says National Popular Vote spokesman Tom Golisano, a businessman and former New York Independence Party gubernatorial candidate. Here’s how it would work. States decide how they divvy up Electoral Votes in a presidential election. As with Gore, it sometimes means the popular vote winner loses. It also creates close calls: Bush won re-election in 2004 by three million votes, but a switch of just 60,000 in Ohio would have made Sen. John Kerry the Electoral College winner. Under National Popular Vote legislation, states agree to give the national popular vote winner all of their electoral votes no matter who their state votes for. The organization is on a lobbying tear to get states with at least 270 votes collectively—the threshold for their bill to go into effect—signed on. So far, they have six states that total 72 votes. [Read about the 2012 presidential election.]

Some states are afraid they will become irrelevant. West Virginia Republican Del. Gary Howell tells Whispers that he thinks it will hurt small-population states the Electoral College was created to help. He also doesn’t like the idea of giving the national popular vote winner West Virginia’s Electoral Votes if the state chose the loser in the race. “It’s absurd what they’re asking,” he says.

But the pros are on the side of National Popular Vote. Former Sen. Birch Bayh, a Democrat and author of two amendments to the Constitution, says it will be fair and make it more of a national election than pitting red against blue states. Former independent presidential candidate John Anderson, another backer, says it will force candidates to travel to many more states instead of just battleground areas, making states like West Virginia as important as, say, Ohio or Florida.

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