OLYMPIA – Lawmakers clashed Monday over a plan to award all of Washington’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote.
Proponents say it’s a way of eliminating the possibility under the Electoral College system under which someone – such as Al Gore in 2000 – can win more total votes yet still lose the election.
“Every single vote will count,” said rime sponsor Sen. Eric Omig, D-Kirkland. The way things stand, many Washingtonians feel their vote The Democrat-backed bill passed, largely on a party-line vote, and now goes to the House of Representatives. If it passes and is signed into law, it would only take effect when similar agreements are approved by states with at least half the electoral votes.
“How can you argue against supporting the popularly elected president of the United States?” asked state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup.
Republicans and one conservative Democrat called it a bad idea, saying it could award Washington’s electoral-college votes to a candidate most Washington voters oppose.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.
Opponents also argued that the bill would reduce the likelihood of presidential candidates stopping here to campaign. Instead, they’d likely focus their efforts on a handful of large cities and states, said state Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield. He calculated that a candidate could get enough votes from just the 12 most-populous states to win if the race was decided on popular vote only.
“I think if you want to disenfranchise the voter, then you vote for this bill,” he said.
Candidates for president and vice president aren’t chosen by direct popular vote. Instead, they are elected by the Electoral College. The number of electors – 538 – is based on how many members of Congress each state has. As things stand now, whoever gets the most Washington votes gets all 11 of the state’s electoral votes. (Idaho has four electoral votes; Montana has three.)
It’s not a winner-take-all approach in every state. Maine and Nebraska can split their votes among presidential candidates.
Oemig said the thoughtful panel of conscience-driven electors envisioned by the founders has been replaced by a system of “partisan automatons.” Rather than disenfranchising Washington voters, proponents said, the change would ensure every vote counts.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was one of those voting no.
“He still hasn’t gotten over 2000,” he said of Oemig.