A second state has approved a plan that would bypass the U.S. electoral college, giving the presidency to the winner of a national popular vote.

The move came this weekend when New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation that specifies the state’s 15 electoral college votes would go to the winner of the popular vote.

Maryland, with its 10 electoral college votes, earlier approved a similar plan. Both are contingent on enough other states approving the plan to provide absolute control over presidential elections.

Another state plan also is headed for the desk of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich after lawmakers approved it just days ago.

Opponents say the plan threatens the nation’s republican form of government and would give unstoppable control over the White House to any coalition the major population centers would choose to create.

It would allow New York City to outvote much of the Midwest; Los Angeles could determine the course of a national agenda for the Pacific Northwest.

Several other state plans are in various stages of legislative progress, with dozens of other proposals beginning the review process, according to the group National Popular Vote, which is lobbying for the change.

Among states whose lawmakers have considered proposals in recent months are Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Montana, California, New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia and Connecticut.

Although it was not the first time, George W. Bush’s 2000 victory with fewer popular votes than Al Gore spurred activists. Bush won because the concentration of his votes enabled him to collect the necessary 270 of the 538 total electoral college votes for the presidency. Electoral college votes are equal to the size of a state’s congressional delegation. States award the votes in different ways, but they generally are distributed based on the state’s popular vote winner.

An analysis of the issue by Wallbuilders, a Christian organization with expertise in historical and constitutional issues, said the opposition to the electoral college doesn’t hold up.

“As the Florida situation (in 2000) proved, individual votes are tallied – sometimes several times,” Wallbuilders said.

The group warned that under a national popular vote one would need support only from population centers in a handful of population-rich states to win every presidential election.

Republicans call the idea a constitutional “travesty.”

“It’s a backdoor end-run of the federal Constitution,” New Jersey Assemblyman Richard Merkt told the Associated Press.

Critics worry the plan to dispense with the electoral college could take hold by legislation passing in fewer than a dozen key states.

Already, legislative bodies in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina have given tentative approval to the proposal.

National Popular Vote explains that under the electoral college system, candidates “have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the concerns of voters of states that they cannot possibly win or lose.

“This means that voters in two-thirds of the states are effectively disenfranchised in presidential elections because candidates concentrate their attention on a small handful of ‘battleground’ states,” the group says. “In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in just five states; over 80 percent in nine states, and over 99 percent of their money in just 16 states.”

“The National Popular Vote bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough electoral votes to elect a president (270 of 538). When the bill is enacted in a group of states possessing 270 or more electoral votes, all of the electoral votes from those states would be awarded, as a bloc, to the presidential candidate who receives
the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC),” the website says.

Critics, however, point out that under such a plan, a coalition of just 11 states or fewer – California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois and Georgia – would have enough vote power to control presidential elections, leaving the other 39-plus states and the District of Columbia to fall into line.

Wallbuilders also quoted Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate who said getting rid of the electoral college would reduce political campaigns in the U.S. to “television advertising” and “tarmac.”

“There would be virtually no incentive to try to mobilize constituencies, organize specific interests or devote any resources to such things as voter registration and education. … What we would have is a political system that combines the worst of network television with the worst of the modern campaign,” he concluded.

Wallbuilders noted that given a direct democracy – one person with one vote and winner-take-all – “candidates would logically spend their campaign courting voters in the most populous urban areas, such as Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Miami, Seattle, etc., rather than visiting cities in more rural areas – cities like Wichita, Birmingham, Amarillo, Cheyenne, Springfield, Tulsa, etc.”

The group said that under the electoral college system, “it is possible that a candidate can win the presidency by carrying a majority of only the 11 most densely populated States (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and either Georgia or Virginia). However, under a system of direct elections, this number could be reduced to even fewer states, particularly if they happen to be the largest states and could deliver overwhelming margins of victory, such as Washington, D.C., did for Gore by the lopsided 86 to 9 percent margin.”

Officials point out that besides the 2000 election, the winner of the popular votes in 1824, 1876 and 1888 was not the same as the winner of the electoral college vote. That is what the system was designed to do, Wallbuilders said.

Wallbuilders noted that – along with proposals to have Congress or state legislatures choose a president – the idea of a national popular vote was discussed by the authors of the Constitution and deliberately rejected.

“This idea was rejected not because the framers distrusted the people but rather because the larger populous states would have much greater influence than the smaller states and therefore the interests of those smaller states could be disregarded or trampled,” Wallbuilders said. “Additionally, a nationwide election would encourage regionalism since the more populous areas of the country could form coalitions to elect president after president from their own region. With such regional preferentialism, lasting national unity would be nearly impossible.”

Wallbuilders said the electoral college specifically was chosen to maintain a republican form of government, as opposed to a strict democracy. And it provides more influence to areas with lesser populations, similar to the way the division of Congress into Senate and House provides a balance.

“In the Senate, Delaware has the same power as California with each State having two votes; but in the House, Delaware’s single vote often is completely negated by the 52 from California. Because of this different source of strength in each body, the votes in those two bodies on the same piece of legislation may be dramatically different. In such a case, before that legislation may become law, there must be some compromise ? some yielding of the Senate to the will of the population and some yielding of the House to the will of the States,” Wallbuilders said.

But Common Cause, in a website statement, insisted the change is needed.

“The current system for electing our president no longer serves America well. The state-by-state method … divides the country into so-called ‘safe’ states where voters are all but ignored while the election is determined by a relatively small number of swing voters in ‘battleground’ states. …

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