New York lawmakers have approved a bill that would enter the state in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement to award electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote.
Proponents of the National Popular Vote initiative believe that the Electoral College, in place since the first days of the nation, is not the best way to elect a president.
Supporters in the state argue that changing the system to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes will raise New York's level on the national playing field, increasing its share of candidate visits and campaign ads.
Capital Region Assemblyman Phil Steck pointed out that the 2000 presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court.
"More Americans voted for Al Gore than voted for George Bush and nonetheless, Bush, based on the decision of the Supreme Court, was elected president,” Steck said. “Most people don't know that the Constitution commits to the states how the states will cast their electoral votes. And under this law, which other states would join in on, and others already have, the states having the most electoral votes, 270 required for election, those states would commit to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote, hence having a direct election of the president by the voters."
To date, nine states and the District of Columbia have signed the compact, accounting for 136 electoral votes. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Joe Griffo and Democratic Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, would add New York’s 29 electoral votes.
National Popular Vote President Barry Fadem said both houses of the New York state legislature passed the National Popular vote bill.
“What is very exciting to us is the huge margins,” Fadem said. “In the Senate, the bill passed by a vote of 57 to 4, and in the house the bill passed by a margin of 102 to 33. What is even more significant is that the bill got support across all [party] lines."
The National Popular Vote agreement goes into effect when 270 electoral votes are reached, enough to give the states that signed the compact a majority of the electoral votes.
Steck noted that if the bill becomes law, New York would be the second largest state, behind California — which has 55 electoral votes — to join the effort.
"Then if states having another hundred electoral votes also agree to this, that it will mean the president will be elected by popular vote, rather than the Electoral College,” Steck said. “And from a New York perspective, because of the way the Electoral College is structured, New York votes are de-valued. So, for example the vote of an individual in Wyoming is 3.45 times more valuable than a vote in New York. So under the principle of one person, one vote, we should have an election for president based on who gets the most votes."
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett of Hudson points out that the U.S. democratic system was built on the ideal of equality and one person, one vote.
“Our Founding Fathers, the architects of our republic, drafted the most profound document in our Constitution; but it was not perfect and times have changed,” Barrett said. “Sometimes it takes a step outside the given path to preserve that democracy. I am proud that the legislature has passed this measure toward allowing the popular vote to determine the presidential election... New Yorkers’ votes have been diminished and our voices need to be heard.”
The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk.