Proposal for California's Electoral Vote Could Benefit GOP

By Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - A proposed California ballot initiative would change the way the state's electoral votes are allocated, and it could help the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, analysts say.

Launched by Thomas W. Hiltachk, a legal counsel to California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Presidential Election Reform Act is similar to the system already in place in Maine and Nebraska.

Here's how it works: Presidential candidates who carry the state are guaranteed the electoral votes of the state's two U.S. senators. The state's congressional districts would cast the remainder of the electoral votes, and the candidate who wins a particular district also would win that district's vote.

Right now, the presidential candidate who carries California gets the state's entire slate of 55 electoral votes.

Supporters call the plan more democratic because it would better represent the popular vote. But critics say it would needlessly tamper with the Electoral College for purely partisan gains.

Backers of the proposal are trying to get it on California's June 2008 primary ballot. Fundraising for the measure started last week. Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the initiative, and he denied any involvement in creating it.

If such a system had existed in California in 2004, President Bush would have defeated Sen. John Kerry by a margin of 308-230 electoral votes (instead of 286-252) because Bush carried 22 California congressional districts in that election. But the way things stood in 2004, Kerry took all 55 of California's electoral votes.

In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for Hiltachk, said California is in the frustrating situation of having 55 electoral votes -- 21 or 22 more than any other state -- but because it leans either solidly Republican or Democrat, politicians tend to take its electoral votes for granted.

That allows the candidates to devote more time and attention to other, smaller states, such as Ohio, that end up determining the outcome of the presidential election.

Eckery added that adopting the Maine-Nebraska model would be an improvement over the current "winner-take-all" method of choosing electors.

"In the case of presidential elections ... all it takes is a plurality of votes in California, and you win everything. President Clinton, for example, in 1992 carried 46 percent of California but all of its electoral votes -- in effect disenfranchising the majority of the state's population."

Eckery said that after the contested 2000 election, people are "looking for a way that's fairer and more reflective of what popular opinion really is," and that his system

Boon for Republicans?

Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser for the California Democratic Party, however, labeled the effort a greedy, partisan attempt to steal Electoral College votes by "people who want to be the next ambassador to France in the next Republican administration."

In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Mulholland dismissed Hiltachk's proposal on its merits, saying: "Last February 4, the Indianapolis Colts got the most points on the board against the Chicago Bears, they won the Super Bowl and got the Vince Lombardi trophy -- they didn't give part of the trophy to the second-place winner.

"If the Republicans think that this is such a good idea, they ought to try it in Texas for a couple of decades, and then get back to us in California and let us know how it went," he added.

Mulholland thinks that despite Eckery's claims to the contrary, major forces of the Republican Party are organizing to put the referendum on California's ballot. It isn't just Hiltachk, he said. "It's Schwarzenegger. His fundraiser is involved. His lawyer is involved. It's a Republican effort, probably driven by Karl Rove before he left the White House."

The California Democrat later compared the Electoral College to the Mafia, saying that the founders created it "because they had little faith in the voters, and this was a check made on the voters. The voters could 'make the wrong decision" in the general election, and the electors could put the fix in. Well, that's like the mob. That's kind of outdated."

"I was born in Philly," said Mulholland. The Founding Fathers were "all wealthy white males who didn't believe women, or blacks, or other minorities or people who didn't own property should have access to political power.

"So, most people today say to themselves, 'Well, they were wrong in a lot of areas, so let's fix it.' And in the case of the Electoral College, if the Founding Fathers were meeting today in Philadelphia and if someone made a proposal for the Electoral College, it would be tabled," he stated.

Mulholland believes that even if the proposal were to qualify for the June election, it would be defeated. "It'll be defeated, it'll be squashed, probably 63 percent to 47 percent."

Constitutional questions

Some have raised doubts about the California measure's constitutionality. Matthew Franck, chairman of the political science department at Radford University, told Cybercast News Service that because the Hiltachk initiative was being put up to a voter referendum, it would not survive constitutional scrutiny in court.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution directs state legislatures, not the electorate, to choose electors "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct."

However, Eckery was confident that Hiltachk's proposal would stand up to criticism.

"One of the key elements that people forget about the American political system is that the states are sovereign, and that the states express their sovereignty through the Constitution to the federal government," he said.

"That's why you have states' rights," he added and why there is a Tenth Amendment.

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