Voting Reformation: California Is Still Not Relevant

Originally posted 03/07/07

(Part 2 in a Series)
Continuing my discourse on elections and election reform, following up on the my last Post on the relevance and importance of the Electoral College, I put forth how California’s current system of allocating electoral votes has created an irrelevance in Washington D.C. for the state and by changing this system California can get more than its fair share.

California does not get its fair share. This is the feeling among the majority of Californians and virtually every elected official, local, county, state and federal, in the state. In essence “fairness” breaks down to the fact that Californians pay more in Federal taxes than California receives in Federal spending. There is much hand wringing over this, but the reason seems pretty obvious: California is irrelevant in Federal elections; especially the last two decades. This seems pretty ridiculous since California has the most members in Congress, by a significant margin. Either they are not, and have not, been doing a good job, or something else is in play—politics.

The state has 53 Representatives and 2 Senators; of these 36 are Democrats and 19 are Republican. Looking at the dispersal of elected Democrats to Republicans it mirrors the results of the past several Presidential elections in votes cast for the Democratic nominees and the Republican nominees. In the areas of the state with high population density you can count on voters turning out to be a strong majority (in many cases overwhelmingly) for Democrats, in the more rural and less populated areas the majority of voters are typically Republican. Since the majority of the state’s population is concentrated around San Francisco/San Jose and Los Angeles/Long Beach/San Diego federal elections are a no brainer. Win the urban areas and you have your election—in the case of Presidential elections this means 55 electoral votes.

Politically the state as a whole is a “safe seat” for the Democrats—no need to spend money in the state if you are a Democrat because you know two-thirds of the Representatives and both Senators will be Democrats and you will also pick up the states 55 electoral votes in the Presidential election. Republicans do not want to spend any money in California because it will be wasted on Republican candidates and may help the Democrats. Since the state did nothing for the Republicans and they controlled Congress and the White House since 2000 it does not take a lot of thought to connect the dots. With Senator Boxer and Rep. Pelosi ripping the Republican majority and President Bush every time they were in front of a microphone it was a simple act of politics to create budgets that would spend more money in areas where the GOP could get votes than in California. Why do some people act shocked that California sends more money to Washington D.C. than it collects in federal spending and programs? There has been zero political gain for either party in increasing federal spending in California.

Recently the California Legislature voted to move the date of the Presidential Primary Election in California from June to February, ostensibly to make California “matter” in the selection process of Presidential candidates. In recent election cycles by the time Californians went to the polls to vote for their favorite candidate within their political party they were either piling on votes for the presumed nominee, or since the nominee was already determined by voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other states voters could cast their “protest” votes for candidates who did not stand a chance of getting their party’s nomination (Howard Dean?). Now with California’s primary moved up to the beginning of the primary season its 55 electoral votes at the Democrat and Republican Conventions are in play in a major way. Instead of just being a stopping point for some $2500 a plate dinners and photo-ops with Hollywood stars, California is now a campaign stop where nominee hopefuls may actually have to discuss issues, make promises to Californians “if elected” and otherwise treat the voters of Fresno, Stockton, San Luis Obispo and Long Beach as well or better than those of Ames, Iowa City, Hanover and Myrtle Beach.

But will it matter? So California becomes a major player in the primaries and the state’s voters will have a chance to determine who will face off against each other in November 2008. After the new President is sworn into office in January 2009 and the 111 Congress is seated California will still be irrelevant in the federal budget and we will still be sending more money to Washington than we will see returned in federal spending and programs. Why? Because it will still be a “gimme” state for the Democrats who will not need to campaign or worry about the 55 electoral votes going from Blue to Red. Status quo will reign and federal money will flow to states that determine the balance of power in Congress and the result of the Presidential election—swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri for example.

But this pattern can be changed. California can become a major, if not the major, player in the game of Presidential elections and Electoral College votes—but it will never happen because it takes the 55 guaranteed electoral votes out of Democrat control and puts several of the votes in play and the Democratic controlled Legislature in California will never enact the simple proposal that would result in a huge increase in federal funds to the State. By changing the winner take all policy in regards to electoral votes to one that is proportional, California must be taken seriously and catered to in Presidential and national politics—and budgets.

The new proportional policy is simple, whichever candidate gets the majority of the popular vote in each Congressional District gets the electoral vote assigned to that district. Whichever candidate wins the majority of the statewide popular vote gets both the electoral votes assigned to our Senators. Now candidates do not just have to win Los Angeles and San Francisco voters to carry the state, but also must think about voters in Stanislaus, Mono, Imperial and Kern Counties. If our Congressional delegation were to represent the electoral votes in the last election the Democratic candidate would collect 36 electoral votes and the Republican candidate would get 19 (which would rank 6th in number of votes). This would give California more power and say in federal politics and more importantly significantly more federal dollars as politicians from both parties vie to provide funds for the state to basically buy our votes the way they do in other states.

Of course it will never pass because it will cost Democrats 15 to 20 electoral votes, the fact that it is good for the state and its citizens is not something that matters to the politicians in Sacramento and D.C.



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