From today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a good article on the National Popular Vote -- a state-based initiative to cast states' electoral votes not for the winner of each statewide popular vote but instead for the winner of the national popular vote.
The bills in Illinois are SB 78 and HB 858. SB 78 is sponsored by Senator Jacqueline Collins and has 9 co-sponsors while HB 858 is sponsored by Representative Bob Molaro and has 26 co-sponsors (as of this morning).
State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, who sponsored a popular-vote bill in Illinois last year, sees the issue as one of fairness.
"It's one man, one vote," Holbrook said. "You can muddy the water all you want. If you think every voter is equal, then you support this."
Illinois state [Sen.] Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, is among those who support a popular-vote plan.
"From my standpoint as a state legislator, regardless of party affiliation, it's a disservice to Illinois to never see the Democratic or Republican candidate come through our state, and we don't get the benefits of their advertisements," Dillard said.
To my mind, the dumbest thing about the status quo is that about 1/4 of the nation's voters participate in a vigorous presidential campaign while the rest of us do not. Remember October of 2004? If you wanted to help elect John Kerry or George Bush, you had to road trip. From the Chicago area, thousands of people drove to Wisconsin. In other parts of Illinois, people poured into Missouri and Iowa. That is patently absurd.
As Representative Holbrook said, if we want Illinois voters to be equally relevant to picking the president, then we need a national popular vote. Those who oppose a national popular vote are essentially supporting the status quo -- and that means, Illinois is completely ignored.
There are a few interesting angles to this debate I'd like to mention.
Some have argued that if we held a national popular vote, the cities would overwhelm the rest of the nation, and candidates would simply campaign in New York, LA, Chicago and Houston and then take over. Well, let's do the math.
There are 300 million people in the United States today.
How many people live in the biggest cities?
First, take a guess.
Would you say something like 40%? 35%?
By the way some people talk about the city vote dominating elections (particularly state legislators in other states, not Illinois), I'd assume those people would make those guesses.
Well, here are the population numbers of the biggest cities:
New York 8.1 million
Los Angeles 3.8 million
Chicago 2.8 million
Houston 2.0 million
Philadelphia 1.5 million
That's a total of 18.2 million people.
About 6 percent.
Not a tsunami of voters to overwhelm the nation.
Even if you take the top 50 cities by population (stopping at Arlington, Texas with 362,000 people), combined they have 45.9 million people or only 15.2 percent of the total population.
Good to keep in mind.
The second interesting point is what the Founders would think about this.
Well, lots of the Founders wanted a national popular vote. In fact, at the convention in Philadelphia, proposals to implement a national popular vote were debated and narrowly lost (6-5 in one vote, because delegates voted by state). The main reason why delegates didn't create a national popular vote is because in 1787, having a national census, much less reporting the results of a national election, was administratively impossible.
The other factor was that the slave states didn't want any elections at all, since they relied on their slaves to count as 3/5 of a person for apportionment purposes, and they had far fewer voters (white male landowners) than the free states. The Electoral College, based on Congressional apportionment, gave the slave states a lot more clout than their population entitled them to.
So, many of the Founders, particularly James Madison (known as the Father of the Constitution), James Wilson, Rufus King and Governor Morris (who wrote the final draft of the Constitution), supported a national popular vote from the start and would love to know that there's an effort to finally implement their vision.
Further, none of the Founders ever debated the Electoral College as currently practiced: a non-deliberative body generated from elections that disenfranchise 2/3 or 3/4 of the nation's voters from meaningful participation. Remember, the Founders thought that the Electoral College would actually meet and consider who would make the best President. That never happened.
So, Illinois is leading a push to make every voter equal and finally implement what more than 70% of all Americans consistently say they want in polls: a national popular vote for our president.
Full disclosure: I lobby for the National Popular Vote campaign in Illinois.