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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2007

Scrap electoral scam

CALIFORNIA Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for proposing a ballot initiative that masquerades as electoral reform but is actually a blatant attempt to influence the 2008 presidential election in the GOP's favor.

What they've done is propose changing the rules for how California's 55 electoral votes are apportioned from the current winner-takes-all to a proportional system that could net Republicans as many as 22 electoral votes in a state they've lost in the last four presidential contests.

"It sounds fair, and it is fair," GOP consultant Kevin Eckery told the Washington Post, and he'd be right if he was talking about reforming the way the whole country votes to make it more reflective of the will of the people.

Under the indirect system established by the Founding Fathers - as a hedge against the influence of the more populous states and a safeguard against the irrational passions of voters - the winner of each state's popular vote gets all that state's electoral votes, except in Maine and Nebraska, which already award the votes proportionally.

The problem has been that the winner of the popular vote under this system can lose the electoral vote and thus may not become president. That was the case in 1876, 1888, and 2000, and would have been the case again in 2004 had John Kerry managed to win in Ohio.

There have been scores of plans to change the system, generally with an eye toward making the process more "fair." But this latest proposal has little to do with fairness and much to do with GOP strategists recognizing that with the country evenly divided between the parties, shifting just a few electoral votes in one state could tip the balance in 2008 and maybe beyond.

Democrats, who are crying foul in California, attempted the same thing in reverse in Colorado and even got a proposal on the ballot in 2004, but the attempt failed. And so it should have, because election reform of this magnitude cannot be implemented one state at a time without raising the possibility of just sort of shenanigans being put forward in California.

A better solution, as we have previously noted, would be a constitutional amendment requiring that all states apportion electoral votes according to each candidate's percentage of the popular vote.

If Republicans want to jump on the bandwagon for real, comprehensive national election reform, they will be deserving of support. If they, or the Democrats, seek targeted change for the sake of partisan advantage, they do a disservice to the electorate they want to represent.

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