California Joins National Popular Vote Movement

| Thu Aug. 11, 2011 11:19 AM EDT

I missed this when it happened Monday, but here's some interesting news from my home state:

A national movement aimed at sidelining the Electoral College in presidential elections got a big boost Monday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation adding California to the list of states supporting the drive. Brown's signature makes California the ninth state to sign on to the effort, which would hand the electoral votes of all participating states to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide. Currently, California's 55 electoral votes go to the person who wins the most votes in the state.

The idea here is to round up states with at least 270 electoral votes who will agree to cast all their votes for whatever candidate wins the national popular vote. California's support is crucial, since it brings the number of committed electoral votes to 132. It wouldn't be impossible for this deal to work without California's 55 electoral votes, but it would be pretty hard. So this is good news.

There are some weird objections to this, the most common of which is that it will turn the whole country into a gigantic Florida circa 2000. And anything is possible, of course. But it's vanishingly unlikely: it's unusual enough for a single state to have a result so close that it inspires the kind of massive court challenges we saw in Bush v. Gore, but it's close to impossible for it to happen on a national level. Even in 2000, the national vote for the two candidates differed by more than 500,000. It would only be worth challenging an election if this number were so small that there was a legitimate chance of overturning the result, and what are the odds of the entire national vote being within, say, 20,000 votes? Nada. And anything further apart than that isn't worth going to court for.

This won't fix our dysfunctional Congress, which is currently a more pressing problem than the Electoral College, but it's still a good thing. Only 138 electoral votes to go!