New law would allow state's Electoral College votes to go to national winner

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol Jan. 8, 2009 in Washington, D.C.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol Jan. 8, 2009 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday that would award all of California's 55 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, a move intended to ensure that the winner of the popular vote becomes president.

The movement by a group called National Popular Vote aims to prevent a repeat of 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but Republican George W. Bush won the electoral vote and the presidency.

California is the ninth state to sign on, giving the effort 132 of the 270 electoral votes it needs to take effect. The others are Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

Most states, including California, currently have winner-take-all systems that give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state. Supporters hope changing the law will force presidential candidates to campaign in all 50 states, because they would need votes from all around the country.

"Right now the candidates spend 98 percent of their time and money in 15 states. So two-thirds of the states are totally ignored," said John Koza, chairman of National Popular Vote.

The group hopes to have enough support to change the electoral system by 2014, well ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The bill Brown signed, AB 459 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, passed the Legislature in July.

KPCC's Shirley Jahad spoke Monday with reporter Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee to unpack the law and what it might mean for future elections. He expects the law will have little impact on the 2012 presidential race.

Walters says Brown's move sidesteps the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires the Electoral College, without changing it. Walter says it's not just bad memories from 2000 that have Democrats like Brown supporting the National Popular Vote, “there's some partisan efforts attached.”

Southern states, he says, tend to vote Republican and have seen the fastest population growth over the last few years. A growing population means more electoral votes for places like Texas and Florida and this has democrats worried.

Although Brown's decision to side with the nationwide popular vote is expected to have little impact, another law he signed that pushes the California Primary to June is seen as largely strategic. “You're going to get a big turn out of Republicans, ergo [Democrats] worry that some of these ballot measures, anti-union measures, could pass in that kind of election,” says Walters.

“That's the reason they are pushing it so hard now, [Democrats] want to make sure they don't see these conservative ballot measures on a primary ballot with a big republican turn out.”

Brown also signed several other pieces of legislation Monday that make changes to California voting.

They include companion measures by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego. AB461 and AB503 require write-in votes to be counted if the voter's intent can be determined, even if the voter did not follow all instructions, such as filling in the bubble next to the line where they write the candidate's name.

"Voters who support write-in candidates have an additional burden placed on them," Block said in a statement.

However, write-in votes will only be counted if there are enough to possibly change the outcome of an election.

Brown also signed AB1343, which allows permanent absentee voters to miss up to four consecutive statewide general election votes before they are removed from a county's vote-by-mail list, up from the current two.

Supporters of the bill by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, say voters are not notified when they're taken off the rolls after missing two elections. The bill was sponsored by the California State Association of Letter Carriers.

Brown also approved an all-mail voting pilot project in Yolo County when he signed AB413 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis. The law will assess the effects of all-mail ballot voting on local elections and report the findings to the Legislature.

The data gleaned from the project "may help guide the future of elections in California," Yamada said in a statement.

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