BOISE – After Washington this year became the fifth state to endorse a big change in how the nation elects presidents – letting whoever wins the popular vote take the office – Idaho is poised to debate the same question.
Nothing changes until enough states sign on to represent a majority of electoral votes; only about a quarter of them are on board so far. “We’re just waiting to see if there are additional states that decide to join in,” said Glenn Kuper, spokesman for Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who backs the move and signed the Legislature-passed bill into law in April.
It may be a tougher sell in Idaho, the very last state to see the measure introduced. But state Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, who plans to introduce the bill in January, is enthusiastic about it. “Under this national popular vote, everyone’s vote will go to the total,” Boe said. “So all of us will have our vote count – that was the appeal to me.”
Currently, Idaho’s four electoral votes are something of a foregone conclusion: They’ve gone to the GOP candidate for president in every election since 1964.
But when the California-based National Popular Vote group, which is pushing for the measure in all 50 states, polled 800 registered Idaho voters in May, it found that 77 percent favored a switch to electing the president by popular vote – 84 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of Republicans.
“We don’t see this to be a partisan issue,” said Pat Rosenstiel, a consultant who’s worked for GOP campaigns and now serves as the National Popular Vote lobbyist for five states, including Idaho.
Backers of the change argue that it’ll force presidential candidates to address issues important to voters everywhere, not just in key battleground states. Opponents say the current Electoral College system forces candidates to pay attention to small rural states, such as Idaho, rather than just a handful of large metropolitan cities.
“It’s certainly an issue of federalism, in terms of state role in the presidential vote,” said Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby.
Said Kuper, Gregoire’s spokesman, “Her perspective is that it’s a national election, and that the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationally ought to be elected president.” He added, “As a state that has a moderately large population, I think we would still receive the same kind of attention that we have in the past, just based on the number of popular votes we would have to deliver to either candidate.”
Four times in U.S. history, including the Bush-Gore race in 2000, the Electoral College selected a president who had lost the national popular vote.