Still stung by George Bush's victory over Al Gore in the Electoral College four years ago, Democrats in Colorado have found a way to give John Kerry at least four electoral votes even if he loses the state's popular vote. Had this new voting system been in place in 2000, it would have been just enough to push Gore over the top.
As almost everyone knows, presidents are not elected by popular vote in this country. Technically, electors voting in the Electoral College elect them. This year, that vote will take place on Dec. 13 in the various state capitals. The results are transmitted to Congress, where the votes will be formally counted on Jan. 6, 2005. It is only then that we will know for certain whom the next president will be.
One of the great strengths of the Electoral College is that it tends to magnify presidential victories. For example, although Bill Clinton never got a majority of the popular vote in either 1992 or 1996, he won comfortably in the Electoral College, which gave him a mandate to govern even though he lacked majority support among voters.
The reason for this is that almost all states have a winner-take-all system for awarding electoral votes. Whoever wins the popular vote gets all the state's electoral votes -- even if he wins by a single vote. A state's electoral votes equal the total of its congressional seats plus two votes for its senators. (Washington, D.C., gets three votes -- what it would have if it were a state.) Thus there are 438 total electoral votes, and a candidate must get an absolute majority to become president.
Two states, however, have a different system, which the Constitution allows them to adopt by state law. In Maine and Nebraska, electoral votes are allocated according to whomever wins the popular vote in each congressional district. The overall winner of the state's popular vote gets two extra votes.
In Maine, for example, the state has two congressional districts for a total of four electoral votes. If candidate A won the first district and candidate B won the second district, then each would be awarded one electoral vote. Consequently, whichever candidate won the state would get only three votes in total, not four, as would be the case everywhere else except Nebraska, which has the same system.
The proposed Colorado system, which will be on the ballot for voter approval in November, is quite different. It would prorate all of the state's electoral votes on the basis of the popular vote. In practice, this means that the loser will always get at least four of Colorado's nine electoral votes.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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