The head of the House Democratic campaign arm this week proposed a constitutional amendment that would give the winner of the popular vote in the presidential race an additional 29 electoral votes.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) did not offer an explanation in the joint resolution filed in the House for why he was proposing to change the way elections in the U.S. are decided.
The prospect of a split between the popular vote and the Electoral College usually provokes cries of abolishing the Electoral College completely, but rather than simplifying the process, Israel’s resolution would add an additional level of intrigue to the electoral puzzle.
Swing states would retain their importance in the Electoral College, but the additional 29 delegates awarded to the popular-vote winner would fundamentally alter the focus of the campaigns. Candidates would have to target voters in states they have no chance of winning, as well as in states they have no chance of losing.
One of the primary criticisms of the Electoral College is that it puts outsize importance on the horserace aspect of the election in the battleground states even as voters in the majority of the country tune out. If Israel’s amendment were to become law, voters in deeply blue and -red states would still have to participate in the election to secure the popular-vote prize for their candidate.
Most analysts believe the 2012 election will be decided by fewer than 29 Electoral College votes.
The timing of the resolution from Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is curious since there is increasing speculation that for the fifth time in history, the 2012 presidential election could result in a split between the popular vote and Electoral College decision. And in this case, most of the speculation has been that President Obama might win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.
According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Mitt Romney has 47.9 percent support nationally over President Obama at 47. But the Obama campaign has consistently touted its “wider path to victory” through the Electoral College, and the president appears to have a small lead in the handful of battleground states whose Electoral College votes will determine the outcome of the election.
Several U.S. races have ended with the runner-up in the popular vote winning the Electoral College.
A split most recently happened in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush won the most electoral votes but lost the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore.
If approved, Israel’s measure would apply with respect to any presidential election held after a one-year period that would begin on the date of its ratification.
The amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states to become law.
Here’s the text of the measure:
“In an election for President and Vice President, after the popular vote has been counted and electors have been appointed in each of the several States and the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States, each State and the District shall report the total number of popular votes cast for each of the candidates ... The candidate receiving the largest percentage of the total popular vote as reported by the several States and the District shall receive 29 electoral votes in addition to those cast by the Electors chosen by the several States and the District. These votes shall not be considered votes cast by Electors and shall not affect the total number of votes necessary to constitute a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.”