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BREAKING NEWS: Electoral initiative backers give up

Plagued by a lack of money, supporters of a statewide initiative drive to change the way California's 55 electoral votes are apportioned, first revealed here by Top of the Ticket in July, are pulling the plug on that effort.

In an exclusive report to appear on this website late tonight and in Friday's print editions, The Times' Dan Morain reports that the proposal to change the winner-take-all electoral vote allocation to one by congressional district is virtually dead with the resignation of key supporters, internal disputes and a lack of funds.

The reality is hundreds of thousands of signatures must be gathered by the end of November to get the measure on the June 2008 ballot.

Although Maine (since 1972) and Nebraska (since 1996) award electoral votes to the popular vote winner in each congressional district, the California initiative ignited a national controversy with Democratic critics charging it was a power grab by Republicans who are regularly shut out of any California electoral votes by the current winner-take-all system. Democrats have won all the state's 55 electoral votes in the last four presidential elections.

Nineteen of the state's 53 congressional districts are currently held by Republicans, giving them a fair chance of winning those electoral votes in a presidential election. The remaining two electoral votes would still go to the state's overall winner.

The initiative began in July with an air of mystery. Its text and paperwork were filed by a Republican law firm in Sacramento -- Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk -- but the actual identity of the backers was unknown. Observers noted the initiative would have helped independent candidates because its text specifically provided for third-party or independent candidates to win electoral votes by district.

Supporters said the initiative would increase California's role in presidential politics and better represent the state's diversity.

Opposition was led by Democratic consultant Chris Lehane who received financial backing from donors such as Stephen Bing, like Lehane a Hillary Clinton backer who saw any threat to keeping all of California's electoral votes as unacceptable.

"We want to to make sure this is not the Freddy Krueger of initiatives," Lehane said today, "that comes back to life. We'll continue to monitor it." Morain's full story is available here.

--Andrew Malcolm

Comments () | Archives (19)

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Thank GOD the Republican dirty trick machine couldn't screw us over this time.

I'm surprised and disappointed that you don't mention that this initiative was only proposed here in California and not nationwide. Fair is fair, but only if the entire playing field is level, not just one that one party feels at a disadvantage in.

If this idea has merit, let's just eliminate the archaic concept of the Electoral College altogether. It would make a more sense.

(No surprise involved. State initiatives were state reforms last century. By definition, they can't be national.-AM)

Great news!

It wouldn't be a terrible idea. If applied nationally. By constitutional amendment. That's the proper way to make this happen, although once you're apportioning votes by congressional district, why not go all the way and go for one human, one vote. What exactly do we need the Electoral College of Musical Knowledge for?

Wonderful, wonderful news!

There is yet still a shred (thread?) of integrity within the Republican Party!

Excellent news. I'm relieved.

To Jim H:

It would be a terrible idea even if applied nationally because of the gerrymandering that goes on in determining congressional districts in each state. Congressional districting across the country is absurd, quite frankly, although none more outrightly and patently partisan than Tom Delay's rediscriting of Texas (because he did it before the next U.S. consensus, which only happens every 10 years).

Before we can even think about allocating electoral votes by congressional district, we need to CHANGE the way congressional districts are apportioned. I happen to agree with SCHWARZENEGGER's proposal (rejected by voters) that congressional districts should be apportioned by a three panel non partisan court. BUT ONLY IF, all other states follow suite.

So, there you have it. If our congressional districts -- nationwide -- are determined by a court panel based upon clear demographic (rather than political guidelines), then allocating electoral votes by congressional district would make a little more sense.

That said, if we're going to allocate electoral votes by congressional district, why would we even have a general election? Just let the House of Representatives vote for our President. (BAD, BAD idea btw).

Actually, if implemented nationwide, it would still have a Republican bias: there are more small states, like Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, etc. that would still generally go 100 percent Republican. But Republicans would pick off Congressional Districts in industrialized states like Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, etc., that generally (these days) go Democratic.

The best way to finesse this is to have each state's electors pledged to support whomever gets the majority of the national vote.

"Nineteen of the state's 53 congressional districts are currently held by Republicans, giving them a fair chance of winning those electoral votes in a presidential election."

Nearly every single one of those districts are supersafe Republican seats that have next to ZERO chance of the Democrat ever winning an election there -- so to say that the Republican pres. candidate has merely a "fair" chance of winning those districts is just flat out wrong. It's virtually _guaranteed_ that the Republican pres. candidate will take the electoral vote for each of them.

That's a crucial point, and it's really too bad that this blog entry got it so wrong. I sure hope that Morain's piece doesn't misunderstand the situation this badly...

This is the same old trick, how to get California's electorial votes out of the democrat's hands. They've tried to split up the electorial votes, they've tried to split up the state. Thank goodness it failed.

I also would approve of getting rid of the electorial college and going purely by the popular vote. If that had been policy in the 2000 election, Al Gore would be president and we wouldn't be in the mess that is Iraq.

Does this mean the proposal will not be on the CA ballot in June?

(Ans: It would seem very difficult to collect hundreds of thousands of petition signatures without an organization or money.)

"the California initiative ignited a national controversy with Democratic critics charging it was a power grab by Republicans who are regularly shut out of any California electoral votes by the current winner-take-all system."

What kind of journalism is that? You make it sound as if the Dems only interest is to suppress Republican votes. In reality, the problem here is that dividing Californias electoral votes would seriously twist the nmational elections in favor for the GOP, because no other big state, not Florida nor Texas, has such a proposal in place. If only California would change it's system, this would make it possible for a republican candidate to win the election despite losing the popular vote by a huge margin.

Changing the system in all states simultanously would be a good idea, but that's not what those republicans proposed. Their thinly disguised goal was to twist the next elections in their favor. That this initiative is now dead is good news for democracy in the US.

This would be a bad idea even if applied nationally. You see, it assumes that both parties have the same average winning margin across their Congressional Districts.

But right now, that isn't the case. Most Democratic districts produce very big margins for Democrats, while most Republican districts produce smaller margins for Republicans. That's because of gerrymandering trying to maximize the number of Republican seats -- there are only so many Republicans to go around.

Accordingly, do the math. In the 2000 election Bush would have had a comfortable electoral college win using this system regardless of Florida's difficulties with basic ethics, counting and arithmetic, not the squeaker that he had.

Is that really the outcome we want? Make elections even LESS dependent on the number of votes candidates get and even MORE dependent on geography?

They probably realized that the measure would not pass constitutional muster. This was an initiative, but Section II, Article 1 of the Constitution says:

"Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors ..."

The *legislature* directs, not the people via an initiative. I have no idea why they did not figure that out before they went public. Instead they did an incompetent naked power grab.

So youre saying you dont support respresentative democracy then?

Why shouldnt those republican districts get electoral votes? What is the moral justification for keeping it the way it is?
Its nice when the game is rigged in your favor I guess, doesnt mean it should be that way.

Getting rid of the whole college is nice, but you have to start somewhere.
Very bad news For republicans and Democrats alike. Its in everyones best interest for both parties to be strong and all opinions represented.

All this proposal does is to perpetuate the stinking electoral college system that makes a Californian's vote for President worth less than one-third of a North Dakotan's. (Try dividing each state's population by its electoral votes and you can see this.)

The solution is to get rid of the Electoral College, but that would require a constitutional amendment which has an unfavorable impact on more than one-quarter of the states - enough to kill an amendment.

Nonetheless, we could effectively get rid of the Electoral College if the large states totaling 270 or more electoral votes and who are disadvantaged by the current system all pass laws assigning their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Then there would finally be one man, one vote in our land and a Californian's vote would count the same as that of any other citizen.

A mysterious Missourian and Rudy Giuliani backer once found guilty of biting a woman on the butt is behind a scheme to chew off a chunk of California for Republicans in 2008.

Charles Hurth, a Union, Mo., lawyer, is the only registered agent of Take Initiative America, a corporation formed to change how California's 55 electoral college votes are apportioned.

All that's known about Hurth is that jurors made him pay $27,500 in 1990 to a woman he bit on the buttocks, and he gave the former mayor's campaign $2,000 in March.

I am amazed that popular vote would recommend a certain president and with the Electoral College we end up with another. I havent taken Poli Sci in years, but I do remember how outdated ths process is. What would it take to change the Electoral process? Aren't we in a Demacratic country still? Don't we have a say?... or do we just go along with "W"?

The bicameral way of doing things is a time honored way (i.e. something an honest conservative should appreciate) of keeping the majority from trampling on the toes of the minority, and vice versa. So in the USA we have a senate and a house of representatives - one that gives two seats per state regardless of population, and another that gives seats in proportion to actual voters. It barely works, but has stood the test of time so far. Recent wholesale redistricting by the now-expiring marginal Republican majority has threatened to upset the applecart.

A winner take all system is bad enough. A loser take all system is far worse. The attempt to grab part of California should convince the unconvinced that today's Republicans are not honest conservatives in the time honored sense, but simply power-mad right-wing activist fraternity brothers: they have lost their grip on their party's traditions.

Look up "conservative," if you like, in any respectable dictionary. Current usage, a linguist will tell you, overrules what's in the dictionary, yet still this word grates, as each time I hear it I recognize that an intentional act of fraud has changed its meaning for no reason other than to create a political advantage.

Change the system arbitrarily? This is not something that a dictionary conservative would do. What an honest Republican should do is look at where the party got derailed, and work to restore it to its core values. Please think less about how to cling to that delicious power, and think more about why your marginal majority evaporated. Get back to working on the problems that the rest of us care about instead of your own taste for power, and we will eventually start electing you again, count on it.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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