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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 3, 2007

Popular-vote bill 'up in the air'

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

A Stanford University professor and one of Hawai'i's top lobbyists are close to changing the state's role in electing presidents.

Hawai'i would become the second state, after Maryland, to agree to form an interstate compact and commit its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. If enough states join the compact, it would bypass the Electoral College, the system created by the Founding Fathers in part to protect small-state interests from the will of the majority.

Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill, saying the state's four electoral votes could go to a candidate not chosen by Hawai'i voters, but her veto was overridden on Tuesday by the state Senate. The state House will decide today, the last day of session, whether to overturn the veto.

"I would say it's up in the air right now," said state House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa).

The bill stayed under the radar for most of the session but splashed into public view last month when National Popular Vote, a California-based nonprofit behind the movement, began newspaper, radio and television advertising.

YEARS TO BE RELEVANT

Many lawmakers still consider it a curiosity, since the money and effort behind the bill is coming from the Mainland and because it could take years for enough states to join the compact to make it relevant in national politics.

Inside the state Capitol, the bill is known mostly for its lobbyist, John Radcliffe, a popular and influential fixture on the rail whose client list includes such varied interests as Hawai'i Superferry, the Motion Picture Association of America and R.J. Reynolds.

Radcliffe was hired by National Popular Vote, whose biggest financial contributor is John Koza, a consulting professor of medical informatics at Stanford and co-author of a book last year on the national popular vote. Koza, who made his fortune as an inventor of the rub-off lottery ticket, also invented a board game on the Electoral College in the 1960s called "Consensus."

Koza helped launch the national popular vote movement in February 2006 and bills are pending in state Legislatures across the country. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, vetoed a popular vote bill last year, saying it could disregard the will of state voters. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed a bill last month, becoming the first state in the nation to agree to the compact.

NO LONGER IGNORED?

Koza said states such as Hawai'i are ignored in presidential election campaigns because candidates mostly concentrate on battleground states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. He believes candidates would be more inclined to campaign in more states, even in states that may favor their political opponents, if every vote counted toward victory.

Although Hawai'i has not traditionally been a battleground state, Vice President Dick Cheney visited in 2004 after public opinion polls suggested the race between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry would be close.

"Every person's vote would count equally throughout the country," Koza said. "And the count within the state is no longer relevant."

Each state now gets two electoral votes for U.S. Senate and one for each U.S. House member which is why Hawai'i has four and more populous states with more U.S. House members have a greater number of electoral votes. Most states, including Hawai'i, commit electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote within the states. Candidates need 270 votes within the 538-vote Electoral College to win the presidency.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS

Under the bill, Hawai'i and other states that join the compact would commit electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. If the compact had been in place in 2000, for example, then-Vice President Al Gore would have beaten George W. Bush because Gore won the popular vote while Bush had more electoral votes.

Lingle said Tuesday that Hawai'i should not give away its votes based on what happens on the Mainland.

"In this case, what you had was a well-known local lobbyist, paid by a Mainland millionaire, to get this passed in Hawai'i," the governor said.

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), said Gore's defeat in 2000 was a compelling example for many Senate Democrats in overriding the veto.

"I think, fundamentally, when you come down to it, it really is a matter of every person's vote counts," Hanabusa said. "And that's what it is, that my vote will be just as important as someone in New York or California."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.