Thursday, February 17, 2011




Almost no one running for president ever campaigns in California once the February primary election is over. This state is so strongly assumed to be true-blue Democratic that voters here don’t even see the most inventive, interesting and controversial campaign commercials.

Ted Costa – the man who filed the petitions to recall ex-Gov. Gray Davis, a move that eventually made Arnold Schwarzenegger governor in 2003 – wants to end that and has just started circulating a proposed initiative to make a big change that would very certainly draw candidates to California.

He has a point. But one that makes sense only if every other state in America does the same thing.

Costa wants to carve up California according to congressional districts. As it stands, every state gets one Electoral College vote for each such district, plus two more for its two senators, giving California 55 electoral votes, 15 more than No. 2 Texas.

But Costa’s Electoral College Reform Act would give the winner in each district one electoral vote, and the overall statewide winner two more. If that system had been in force two years ago, Barack Obama would have won 44 of California’s votes, with 11 for Republican John McCain.

Even though California now has 20 Republicans in Congress, nine of their districts went for Obama in 2008.

This sounds eminently sensible, and it would certainly remove California from anyone’s list of states people take for granted. Candidates of all stripes would have to spend campaign time and money here, taking away from what they now spend in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

The only problem is that it’s not fair if California takes this action by itself (OK, California wouldn’t be completely alone; tiny Maine and Nebraska now have similar systems).

“The way it now stands, rural and suburban parts of California are not represented in the electoral vote,” says Costa. He’s right. Places like San Diego, Orange and Placer counties, which almost always vote strongly Republican, are drowned out in the final tally for president.

But something similar applies in other states, most notably Texas, which now has 40 electoral votes. Like California, the Lone Star state is taken for granted. It hasn’t gone Democratic in decades. But Democrats nevertheless dominated significant parts of it.

The state capital of Austin, also home to the University of Texas, is a hotbed of liberal and environmental activism, taking many steps to fight climate change even as state officials headquartered right there won’t hear of doing anything similar.

The state’s largest city, Houston, has not had a Republican mayor since the early 1980s, has long been represented in Congress by liberal Democrats and has not voted Republican for president since the 1970s. Its third-largest city, San Antonio, is politically dominated by Latino Democrats.

Like the California areas that don’t get electoral votes of their own, those Texas cities are unrepresented in the last stage of presidential elections. Like California, Texas rarely sees candidates once the primary season is over.

It’s much the same in rock-ribbed Republican (during presidential votes) states like South Carolina and Georgia, which contain plenty of Democratic areas. Example: Two of South Carolina’s six congressional seats are now held by Democrats.

That makes Costa’s attempt at electoral voting by congressional district a thinly transparent Republican ploy, as long as other states don’t do the same, and even Costa doesn’t think he stands much chance of getting it onto the ballot.

“I have people committing to me to gather 200,000 petition signatures,” he said. But he would need 550,000 of those and so far no financial angel has appeared with money to fund a big petition drive, as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego County did for the recall. Of course, Issa hoped to run for governor in that recall when he donated the money, backing off only after Schwarzenegger entered the race and questions arose over his own past.

All of which makes Costa’s effort a bit quixotic. He knows it stands little chance. Nor should it, until the idea is adopted far more widely around America.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit


  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn't be about winning states or districts. No more distorting and divisive red and blue district and state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO-- 68%, FL – 78%, IA --75%, MI-- 73%, MO-- 70%, NH-- 69%, NV-- 72%, NM-- 76%, NC-- 74%, OH-- 70%, PA -- 78%, VA -- 74%, and WI -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE --75%, ID – 77%, ME -- 77%, MT – 72%, NE -- 74%, NH --69%, NV -- 72%, NM -- 76%, OK – 81%, RI -- 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT -- 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR --80%, KY -- 80%, MS --77%, MO -- 70%, NC -- 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, VA -- 74%, and WV – ‘81%; and in other states polled: CA -- 70%, CT -- 74% , MA -- 73%, MN – 75%, NY -- 79%, OR – 76%, and WA -- 77%.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 74 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

  2. Dividing a state's electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system. What the country needs is a national popular vote to make every person's vote equally important to presidential campaigns.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would less be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country's congressional districts.

    The district approach would not cause presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates' attention to issues of concern to the state. Under the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all laws(whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race is competitive in only 3 of the state's 53 districts. Nationwide, there are only 55 "battleground" districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Under the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, two-thirds of the states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, seven-eighths of the nation's congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person's vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.

  3. In a 2008 survey, 70% of California residents and likely voters supported changing to a national popular vote. Democrats (76%) and independents (74%) were more likely to support a change to direct popular vote than Republicans, but 61 percent of Republicans also supported this change. Among likely voters, support for this change was 6 points higher than in October 2004 (64%).