, Salem, MA

July 27, 2010

My View: National Popular Vote makes sense

My View
Michael S. Dukakis

Something happened in the 2000 presidential election that should never be permitted to happen again. The candidate who failed to win the popular vote became president of the United States.

Something just as unacceptable almost happened four years later. If John Kerry had won Ohio by a single vote, he would have become president even though George W. Bush would have won the popular vote by over 31/2 million votes.

I think it's high time we got rid of the Electoral College and elected our presidents the way we elect every other elected official in the country — by a vote of the people. The overwhelming majority of the American people think so, too.

The cause is not a new one. No other provision of the Constitution has engendered more proposed constitutional amendments. In fact, when President Nixon tried to abolish the Electoral College in 1969, he won an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives only to be thwarted by a minority in the Senate, as it takes two-thirds of both branches of Congress and three-quarters of the states to pass a constitutional amendment.

Fortunately, we now have a way to eliminate the negative impact of the Electoral College without going through the long and tedious process of amending the Constitution: the National Popular Vote plan. It is critically important that our state joins Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, and Hawaii in approving this bill.

Why is it so important to pass this legislation? Because under the current system, running for president means just one thing: Focus on the so-called swing states. I did it. Al Gore did it. John Kerry and Barack Obama did it, and our Republican opponents did it, too.

A big turnout in Massachusetts and more than two-thirds of the other states is irrelevant to winning the election. Only winning the swing states matters, and presidential candidates are under tremendous pressure to embrace issues and positions that will resonate in those few states. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that in the past several presidential elections, candidates have spent almost all of their time between Labor Day and Election Day in about six states. That's not healthy, and it's not right.

For the first time in decades, our votes — for both the losing and the winning candidate — will actually matter. That's because each vote in Massachusetts will be added to all the other votes across the country to determine the winner, just like in all other elections. Because the margin of victory will matter, National Popular Vote will increase voter participation and put a premium on strong and effective grassroots organizing in all states — something that happens to be a particular passion of mine.

Finally National Popular Vote will not hurt small states. Small states get a theoretical boost from the extra votes they get in the Electoral College. But that boost has no real impact. Small states except New Hampshire have been safe states for one party or the other for decades and are ignored by presidential candidates.

We have a historic opportunity to join with other states to fix the Electoral College system once and for all by passing the National Popular Vote bill.

It's the right thing to do for the country. It will ensure that the candidate with the most votes wins and will put voters in spectator states like ours on a level playing field with voters in the swing states.

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Michael S. Dukakis, a Brookline resident, is former governor of the commonwealth and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1988.