Almost Halfway to Popular Vote for President

Tom Golisano (Photo by Robert Kerham/AP)

Billionaire Tom Golisano, who ran unsuccessfully three times as an independent for governor of New York, believes that there’s a decent chance to change the mechanism of presidential elections to more closely reflect the nationwide popular vote in time for the 2012 race.

“If you’d asked me that question three months ago I would have probably said it was not at all likely,” said Golisano, who is running the National Popular Vote initiative. “There’s some momentum and a lively national debate.”

One driver is in Pennsylvania, where a GOP proposal is pending to replace the winner-take-all system of allocating the state’s 20 electoral votes with a plan to award 18 votes based on the popular vote in each congressional district, and two votes to the statewide winner.

The other: California just enacted a law agreeing to the National Popular Vote interstate contact, making it one of nine backers with a combined 132 electoral votes. The plan can take effect when states with a total of 270 electoral votes, the majority needed to win the presidency, iagree to it.

“We’re just under halfway there,” Golisano said in an interview. “We’re lobbying hard.”

Under the plan, states pledge to award their presidential electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most popular votes nationwide, regardless of who came out ahead in their own states.  The idea, backers say, is to prevent disputed elections when the candidate with the most votes loses tin the electoral college, such as 2000, when George W. Bush edged Al Gore.

They say it would end the tyranny of the perennial “battleground” states, including Pennsylvania and Florida, whose partisan allegiance is up for grabs each for years.

“I think it would change the game,” Golisano said. “Candidates now spend most of their time and advertising money in eight to 10 swing states. That’s not very democratic, if you’re living in the ‘flyover’ states of New York, California and Texas. There are a lot of disenfranchised voters in those states. Candidates are going to have to visit more places, and seek out issues and concerns different than they are now.”

The proposal has not been scheduled for consideration in the Pennsylvania legislature. Meanwhile, a state Senate committee held a hearing Tuesday on the congressional-district electoral plan written by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).

Golisano, who was not invited to testify about his alternative, showed up at the Capitol in Harrisburg with former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson to plug the National Popular Vote.