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By popular demand?

State legislators push for electoral changes

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It's probably the biggest story in North Carolina right now, but very little has been reported about it. If a move to change the way North Carolina votes succeeds, the people of Iowa and a few dozen other states will decide for us who should be the president of the United States. How North Carolinians vote will be nearly irrelevant. You could even argue that there wouldn't be much point in showing up to vote.

If some state legislators get their way, in 2012, North Carolina voters could go to the polls and overwhelmingly re-elect Republican President Rudy Giuliani. But all of the state's electoral votes could go to his Democratic opponent, even if that candidate got pummeled at the ballot box here.

Some short-sighted Democratic state legislators call this "reflecting the popular will of the people." But if it were such a great idea, you have to wonder why state senators passed the bill that would bring it about on a party-line vote late on a Monday night in May when no one was looking, after quickly shutting down debate on a final reading.

If a similar version of SB954 is passed in the state house and becomes law, North Carolina will become part of a constitutionally dubious plan called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact is an agreement among states that would take effect when enough states agree to join it to provide the 270 electoral votes it takes to win the Electoral College. Each state in the compact agrees to direct its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

The reason for this, is, of course, that the Dems are still steamed about George W. Bush's 2000 victory, when he lost the popular vote to Al Gore but won the electoral vote. They conveniently forget that John Kerry lost a close vote in Ohio to Bush after lawsuits. Had Kerry won Ohio, Kerry would have been elected president even though he wouldn't have won the popular vote.

A candidate losing the popular vote but winning the electoral vote is extremely rare. Aside from 2000, the last time it happened was in 1888.

What state Democrats who control the General Assembly are doing is obvious. Republican presidential candidates have won this state for more than a quarter century. They figure they can swing that state's electors to Democrats in the presidential election. It's a power grab that has frightening implications. Over decades, states trend from blue to red and back again with population shifts. In 50 years, the red and blue political maps that represent the Republican or Democratic status of the states in this country will look nothing like they do today -- and there may (hopefully) even be a third or fourth color added. So in a few decades, this system could even hurt the Democratic Party. But there are much larger issues with it.

This country has never elected its presidents by popular election for good reason.

Contrary to what you'll hear from most of the media today, when they wrote the Constitution, the founding fathers were more concerned with the relative influence of states as a whole than they were with the equality of individual votes, federalism scholar Donald Haider-Markel wrote in "The Role of Federalism in Presidential Elections."

They knew that, if given a chance, larger states would band together to use political influence against the smaller states for economic gain. That's why they assigned at least three electors to each state, regardless of its size. The point was to keep smaller states from being completely overwhelmed by bigger states and ensure that all states could play a role in the electoral process.

And that's the steep price we'd pay for submitting our votes to the compact that would for all practical purposes erase state lines and make elections completely federal nature.

Right now, state legislators seem unable to look past partisan labels that could be obsolete in a few decades. But the true damage would be to state interests. New York and Connecticut have very different economies and interests than North Carolina does. But under this system, if a presidential candidate advocated policies that damaged North Carolina's economy to the benefit of economies in Midwestern states, it wouldn't matter if North Carolina voters overwhelmingly rejected her. All of our electoral votes could still be awarded to her.

That may sound far-fetched now to those attached to today's partisan labels, but it wouldn't have been to state leaders during the run up to the Civil War. And history has a funny way of repeating itself.

With so much at stake, it's odd that many of the state's newspapers wrote little about SB954 after it passed. The state's television stations have hardly covered it at all.

That's a shame. Let's just hope the state house doesn't pass this in the dark of night without discussion. Voters shouldn't have to wake up one morning to learn the Constitution and the will of our founding fathers was subverted while they slept.

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