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July 31, 2014, 7:40 pm

Group urges revamp of Electoral College

Move would guarantee presidency to candidate who gains greatest number of popular votes


Many Americans may not know it, but when they go to the polls during a presidential election, the most popular candidate isn’t always the one who ends up in the White House.

It’s not the candidate who gets the most popular votes, but the one who gets the most electoral votes who gains the presidency - and there’s a growing movement that’s close to changing that.

The National Popular Vote is a legislative proposal that if passed into law would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who gains the greatest number of popular votes across the country.

“What this means is that every voter’s voice would be heard. Under this plan all of a state’s electoral votes would be passed to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in every state,” said businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex, the nation’s largest payroll processor, during an editorial board meeting at the Philadelphia Tribune on Wednesday. Golisano said the proposal preserves the electoral system but makes it fairer.

“This is already a grassroots movement that has been adopted by nine states that possess 132 electoral votes, that’s 49 percent of the 270 votes needed to activate it,” he said. “In the 2004 presidential election, if John Kerry had received 66,000 more votes in Ohio, he would have been president. He had the popular vote. This is the issue with the winner-take-all system we have now. The candidate with the least number of popular votes can become president. I don’t think anyone believes that’s a healthy situation. Remember the debate in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote? When 9/11 happened it took the country’s eye off that ball. If 9/11 hadn’t happened, we probably would have changed it by now.”

In the year 2000 presidential election, Gore conceded to George W. Bush after a lengthy post-election debate. Gore had been contesting the results of the vote because of the extremely narrow margin of victory his opponent held in Florida. Gore clearly won the national popular vote by half a million ballots. The legal struggle went all the way to the Supreme Court, whose ruling eventually made Bush the winner.

The Electoral College system was established by Article II of the United States Constitution. Under that system, every state has a number of electors that equals the number of members it has in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each state also has one elector for each of its two members of the senate and each elector has one vote. There are 538 electors, and the votes of a majority of them, or 270 votes, elect the president.

The National Popular Vote movement was started five years ago by Stanford University professor John Koza. Koza began lobbying in different states and the proposal has been gaining momentum. So far, nine states have adopted the system – half of what’s needed to activate it - and it’s still growing.

In Pennsylvania, a battleground state with 20 electoral votes, eight of the 50 state senators and 35 of the 203 state representatives are backing the proposal. On Oct. 4 during a news conference in Harrisburg, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and former Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois, both Republicans, and Golisano were among those calling for the change.

“This one change would cure a host of problems and help ensure that our republic, challenged as it is these days by hyper-partisanship, can thrive in the coming decades,” said Thompson in a press release. Thompson has been named national co-champion of the National Popular Vote proposal.

“If anything, it should help boost turnout in counties where one part or another has a large voter registration advantage. Every GOP vote will count the same, whether it is cast in Erie or Philadelphia. Every Democratic vote will count, whether it’s cast in Punxsutawney or Azuza, California,” Thompson said.

In Pennsylvania, similar bills have been proposed in the House and the Senate. An Electoral College reform bill was recently introduced by state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester. Pileggi’s proposal would give one of Pennsylvania's electoral votes to the popular vote winner in each of the 18 congressional districts. The remaining two at-large votes would pass to the statewide winner. But the Pileggi proposal hasn’t received support from Democrats, who say it would be determined by congressional district.

“It’s not something I think could be initiated in Pennsylvania,” Golisano said. “We have a lobbying effort in every state. Pileggi’s bill, I think, would result in lower turnout and less competitive elections, because many congressional districts are shaped for political advantage.”

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, in a published report said simply that Pileggi’s proposal was a bad idea.

“On the surface, it sounds like it would bring the election closer to the voter,” he said, “but I would be more comfortable with it if the boundary lines of the congressional districts were more compact, not gerrymandered. It’s a really bad idea. I think it’s an idea whose time has not come.”