There's been quite a bit of chatter on the blogosphere about Rep. Kelda Helen Roys' introduction of the National Popular Vote Act, a bill that's been circulating in legislatures all over the country that would bind states' electoral college votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.
I talked to Rep. Roys about the bill. The first thing she said that surprised me was that the legislation has actually been adopted by five states already. I checked online and she is correct: Washington, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland and Illinois have all agreed to follow the will of the American people, no matter how sorely misguided they think we are. Moreover, 29 legislative chambers have passed the bill. As far as I can see, every one of those chambers is controlled by Democrats.
The argument against the electoral college is as old as the system itself. Most Americans support eliminating the system. The intellectual position is clear: one man, one vote. What I was more interested in was Roys' arguments for why eliminating the system would benefit Wisconsin interests.
Roys has two general arguments for Sconnies. According to her, the large number of small to mid-sized cities in Wisconsin makes the state a good match for a national popular vote election. "Wausau, La Crosse, Appleton...they have media markets, high voter turnout and a lot of swing voters." Roys pointed out that candidates would not have an incentive to only campaign in big cities, first because most Americans don't live in big cities, and second because the media markets are too expensive.
In addition, Roys points to the lopsided margin of victory Obama won in the Badger State last election as proof that Wisconsin is no longer a swing state, and may therefore be neglected by future presidential candidates. "No state is a swing state forever," she said.
I found Roys' first argument intriguing. You can see the reasoning at work even in the current system. There are plenty of swing states with big cities (Florida, Ohio etc.) but by no means do candidates trying to win those states spend all their time in the urban areas. It's counter-intuitive politically for two reasons. First, most Americans do not live in the inner-cities. Second, it's much less competitive there. Inner-cities are heavily Democratic and while Democrats will want to invest resources to get out the vote there, they're not going to be making promises galore to the cities in an attempt to win swing votes, as conservative blogger James Widgerson suggests.
I found the second argument slightly less convincing. 2006 and 2008 were big for Democrats in Wisconsin because they were big for Democrats everywhere else. Obama crushed McCain here but he also crushed him in Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico, all of which are states any viable Republican should consider winning. In two close elections Bush lost Wisconsin by the skin of his teeth. I guess only the future will tell. I think the day the GOP realizes it doesn't have a chance in Wisconsin will be the day the party decides on a major strategy shift.
What has been especially interesting about this whole process though are the legislators who signed on to Roys' bill and then later withdrew their support. Roys blamed their flip-flops on the "right wing screamers," such as radio host Charlie Sykes. So it makes sense that in a recent column in the Journal-Sentinel, Roys emphasized the benefits of a popular vote for Wisconsin Republicans, whose voices haven't counted in a presidential contest since 1984.