OPEN UNIVERSITY OCTOBER 4, 2006
by Sanford Levinson
On October 2, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would, as described in the extraordinarly brief story published in the October 3 Times on the veto, "that would have automatically allocated all the state's 55 electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate received the national popular vote." An earlier, and extensive, story in the Times accurately noted that the bill, devised by a computer scientist, John r. Koza, would, if adopted as well by the other ten largest states, would effectively eliminate the electoral college system inasmuch as a majority of the electoral votes would be guaranteed to go to the winner of the popular vote. In vetoing the bill, Schwarzenegger said that it ran "counter to the tradition of our great nation." One might wonder what that "grand tradition" is: Electing, as in 2000 (and, it appears, in 1960), the second-place candidate. Or is it an Electoral College system that, in effect, makes California irrelevant to the national campaign except insofar as it becomes what it hasn't been in many years, a "battleground" state. But the real point of this posting is that the California legislature was making a genuine effort to cure what some of us believe is a genuine national disease--i.e., a presidential politics based on an outmoded and indefensible Electoral College--without having to run the gauntlet of Article V of the Constitution, which as a practical matter makes it next to impossible to amend the constitution with regard to anything significant. If I may draw from my own article in this week's New Republic, this is a model instance of how the veto system, whether presidential or gubernatorial, stifles democracy and, in this case, terminates almost at the outset a vital national conversation that we should be having both about the merits of the Electoral College system and about the existence of a genuine alternative to the "Article V veto" of badly needed change. Governor Schwarzenegger badly disserved his own state; he also disserved the nation.
Note: The bill would effectively eliminate the electoral college system if adopted by the ten other largest states, not 20, as originally stated.