By Jeff Cox


The National Popular Vote Initiative (NPV) leaders today held a Capitol Hill news conference to explain why their national popular vote proposal is superior to the plan put forth by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware). The leaders included New York businessman Thomas Golisano, former United States Senator and actor Fred Thompson, and former Illinois Governor Jams Edgar.


Under the initiative, all of a state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular vote in all fifty states and the District of Columbia and would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes. The Pileggi proposal provides for the allocation of presidential electoral votes by congressional district. If a presidential candidate received the most votes in a congressional district, the candidate would be awarded that district’s electoral vote and Pennsylvania’s remaining two electoral votes would go to the candidate that receives the most popular votes in the Commonwealth.


Golisano explained that the NPV compact has been adopted in eight states and the District of Columbia which constitutes 132 electoral votes. He further explained that the bill would only take effect when enacted, in identical form by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes which means 270 of 538. Golisano described the methodology of the national popular vote initiative as “far superior” to other proposals.  He pointed out that in every election except President of the United States the candidate with the most votes wins. He said, “Something very important is happening right here in Pennsylvania in determining the future possibility of how we elect the President of the United States.” Golisano said organizational efforts are taking place all across the country and legislation has been introduced in 35 states.


Edgar commented, “We have candidates and Presidents who focus their time on those few states considered battleground states and that is unfortunate.” He said, “If we went to a system where every vote counted the same, it would require the candidates to get to many more states.” Edgar asserted, “I think whoever is elected President would be far better prepared to be President.” He added, “I believe it is very important that the voters know that they have a chance to impact the election.”


Thompson said, “I look at it as a national issue and a national election. It is like no other race. You are electing the President of the United States.” Speaking about the 2000 election, Thompson said, “We are long past the point where we can afford to have that happen again where the person not having the most votes wins the election.” He went on to say, “A President in this day and time doesn’t need to come into office with any question to their legitimacy having not gotten the most votes.”


The national popular vote legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly. Senate Bill 1116 has been referred to the Senate State Government Committee and House Bill 1270 has been referred to the House State Government Committee. Senator Pileggi’s proposal, Senate Bill 1282 has been referred to the Senate State Government Committee and was the subject of a committee hearing today.


Golisano, Thompson and Edgar responded to questions from the news media.


In Pennsylvania, is there any particular resistance to your proposal that you are seeing here?

Golisano: I would say that most of the resistance hedges around the fact that Pennsylvania has traditionally been a battleground state. That seems to be it. I have asked many times how that has benefitted Pennsylvania. I know the local politicians seem to like it. They have presidential candidates come in. Even in Pennsylvania, if you look at the polling numbers, over 50 percent of the people prefer to go to a national popular vote. There is resistance at the local political level but I think the general population would like to have it. Most people in this country do not understand the Electoral College and how it works.


Why have you chosen to go this route instead of the usual process for amending the Constitution? Does it require all of the states to join the compact?

Golisano: The way it works with the national popular vote is when enough states that represent 270 electoral votes sign onto the national popular vote at that election, that state would award all of its electoral votes to the candidate that gets the most votes nationally. Since we are halfway there with 132 electoral votes, it is a far easier way to accomplish state by state, which is how the Constitution is set up anyway, than it is to go through a constitutional amendment process.


You talked about “battleground states” and “flyover states.” Wouldn’t this just shift the attention to the bigger states?

Golisano: If you look at the history of election results in the ten biggest states, you will see that they offset each other. They are not partisan one way or another. There is no tendency to say that the big states are going to control the elections. They are not. Pennsylvania has over 12 million people. With the size of the electorate, Pennsylvania is certainly not going to be ignored because of its size.


Smaller states like Nebraska or Alabama would not get any more attention?

Golisano: With a couple of exceptions, that is generally true but they are ignored now.

Thompson: As it turns out, there are about an equal number of big states that are red and blue. Similarly, there are the same number of small states that are red and blue. It becomes an issue of not what your size is but whether or not you are an evenly split state. No one can say what the presidential strategy would be. No one knows how it would play out. The only thing you would know for sure is one vote in one place would count the same as a vote in another place.


If you look at the electoral map and you get the 11 largest states based on their electoral votes to enact this plan that would give you the 270 you need. Do you think it is fair that the 11 largest states could decide to award the presidency based on the national popular vote even if the other 39 states oppose that idea?

Golisano: If the national popular vote program gets passed when we get enough electoral votes, I think the other states would join in. Getting those 11 states in sort of defies the logic of what has already happened. We have states signed up like the state of Washington, Hawaii, and Maryland, We are working on five states. We are working in places like Delaware and Rhode Island. The biggest state we have is California. New York is becoming a potential possibility but we are nowhere in Texas for example. There is no pattern based on state size.

Thompson: Eight states could get together today and elect the President. They have the most votes but it not might be the most votes in the country.


Why not amend the Constitution and avoid the perception that you are making an end around of the Constitution?

Golisano: To amend the Constitution would be a far more difficult thing to do because you need so many states to approve it. The only people preaching “the end run” are people who seem to be against it. It is so clear in the Constitution that it gives the states the responsibility and the right to award their electoral votes however they want.

Edgar: From a historical perspective, when this country was first put together the 13 states did not have a lot in common except they didn’t like Great Britain. The feeling was in the early days was we are going to protect each state. We have come a long way since then. People today live in several different states in their lifetime. This is much more of one nation versus fifty states. It goes back to the concept of majority voters. We have evolved and we need to evolve how we select a President.


If this compact comes into play, won’t the first election be chaotic? Are you prepared for that?

Golisano: Yes we are. Within the compact verbiage, there is at least a six month waiting period before they change the method of awarding their electoral votes.


Would you be worried about voters or a good government group challenging this? For example, a Republican won the national popular vote but California voted for the Democratic candidate. Couldn’t there be a long legal battle?

Golisano: I am not worried about it. I don’t think people think about their particular state when they are electing a President. They might do that more in battleground states than in flyover states. The fact that it polls over 60 percent, the American people want this. I don’t think we have to be concerned about this. Basically, what we are doing is giving people what they want. The other thing is this doesn’t cost anything.

Thompson: You are never going to be able to guarantee no lawsuits under any circumstances for sure but it may be a smaller target than you think. Using your hypothetical, say California goes to court asserting the proposition that we want a minority President and they are dissatisfied with the result I think would be less likely than other lawsuits.

Golisano: I believe with a Presidential election, the Supreme Court would act rather quickly.

Thompson: Interstate compacts have a long history in this country. They are fairly common.


Do you realistically think you have a shot at having this politically in play in 2012 or are your sights farther down the line?

Golisano: We think it is a possibility. I am not going to put some odds on it but I have really been impressed with the attention put on it because of California’s adoption of it. What is happening in Pennsylvania is bringing a lot of national attention. The National Popular Vote as an organization is dedicated to making this process a national issue. Do I think it is possible? Yes. Are we going to work hard to try to get it done? Yes.  Is it going to be easy? Probably not.


Sen. Thompson, what are your thoughts on the proposal to allocate Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district?

Thompson: We are not here to rain on anybody else’s parade or trying to trump the hearings today. Ultimately, the legislators will have to decide for themselves what they want. We would be less than genuine if we didn’t say we felt that our support was the superior approach. I would be somewhat fearful under the congressional district plan that every congressional district would have the same disadvantages that the current state situation has. In the first place, you could end up with a minority President who did not get the most votes. Secondly, a congressional district that was heavily Democratic or heavily Republican, no one is going to pay attention to you. You would have the same swing congressional districts that you now have with states. I know the sponsors’ interest is in bringing the elections closer to the people.