Under the current system of electing the President, Rhode Island is ignored.
In 2008, both the Democratic and Republican candidates concentrated two-thirds of their campaign events and money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the states, including Rhode Island and almost every small state, received zero attention from presidential campaigns.
The problem has nothing to do with being big or small, or red or blue. Nor is it the Electoral College or the Constitution that forces presidential candidates to ignore most of the country in this way. The problem is the winner-take-all state law that awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes in the state. Because of the winner-take-all rule, candidates have no incentive to campaign in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. As a result, presidential campaigns always boil down to a small number of closely divided battleground states where the result could go either way.
Because Rhode Island is a safe bet for any Democrat (just as Texas is safe for any Republican), our state misses out on a great deal, including presidential campaigning, grassroots organizing, advertising, polling, or any discussion of issues that matter to Rhode Island. Contrast this to New Hampshire, which has the same number of electoral votes as Rhode Island, but unlike our state, receives 12 of the 300 post-convention campaign events and correspondingly large amounts of money.
This is no way to elect the leader of the free world. Every state ought to be important, every voter ought to have an equal voice, and the most votes should win. These are the ideals behind the National Popular Vote bill, which guarantees the Presidency to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states.
Article II, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives states the exclusive authority to award their electors as they see fit. Under National Popular Vote, states join an agreement to award their electoral votes to the winner of national popular vote in all 50 states. The agreement would not go into effect until a number of states representing a majority in the Electoral College (270 of 538) pass an identical bill.
This state-based approach is an appropriate way to reform the system. States have changed their laws governing electoral votes many times. Indeed, when Massachusetts enacted the National Popular Vote bill last year, it was the eleventh time the state had changed their method of awarding electoral votes. To date, eight other states, including Vermont, have enacted the National Popular Vote bill, representing half of the number of electors needed for the law to take effect. Thirty-one states have passed the bill through at least one legislative chamber, including Rhode Island which passed it in both the House and Senate at various times in the past.
Under a national popular vote, Rhode Island would be back in the game. In fact, every state would be the recipient of campaign attention because every vote would be equal. Candidates would campaign for votes everywhere, just as candidates for the legislature in Rhode Island must campaign in every part of their districts. This would be a good thing for our state. Candidates should have to come to Rhode Island and address the issues that matter to our people.
Recently, MIT visiting scholar Alexander Belenky argued in the Providence Journal that National Popular Vote might violate the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ("National Popular Vote might Violate U.S. Constitution” November 2nd). This analysis is incorrect because under National Popular Vote, every vote would be equal. The candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC) would become President, and every voter in every state would have an equal vote.
In next year's legislative session, Rhode Island should exercise the power given to it by the U.S. Constitution and join nine other states in enacting the National Popular Vote bill. Not only will the needs and concerns of Rhode Island finally attract the attention we deserve from presidential candidates, but we will ensure that every vote is equal, the candidate with the most votes wins, and every voter matters in every presidential election.
Submitted by Sen. Erin Lynch and Rep. Raymond E. Gallison, Jr.
Sen. Erin Lynch of Warwick is the Senate sponsor of the National Popular Vote initiative in Rhode Island. Rep. Raymond E. Gallison, Jr. of Bristol will sponsor the House version of the National Popular Vote legislation.