March 9, 2012

How the Rhode Island Legislature Can Bring More Presidential Campaign Attention to Rhode Island All On Its Own

Carroll Andrew Morse

Supporters of the "National Popular Vote" interstate compact for Presidential elections frequently explain that one of their goals is to have to have Presidential candidates pay attention to more than just a handful of "swing states" during their general election campaigns. But Rhode Island has the ability to increase its share of Presidential campaign attention by acting on its own.

Presently, Rhode Island allocates its Presidential electors according to a winner-take-all rule. The legislature could replace this with a system where winner-take-all only occurs if the leading vote-getter exceeds a certain vote threshold. Otherwise, if no candidate exceeds the threshold, Presidential electors would be assigned proportionally.

If the popular vote percentage was multiplied by the number of electors and rounded to the nearest whole number, and the winner-take-all threshold was set at the same percentage that would move a proportional split from 2-2 to 3-1, then the difference between winning close in Rhode Island and winning a supermajority would be 2 electoral votes. That would make it worthwhile it for candidates to actively pursue a supermajority win, or, conversely, to do enough to deny an opponent a supermajority win. Putting 2 electoral votes into play in this manner would give Rhode Island roughly the same influence it would have in a popular vote system and where landslides in either direction were possible.

There is no obvious Constitutional objection to this method of allocating electoral votes, so it would allow progressives and conservatives interested in more Presidential campaign attention for Rhode Island to unite behind it. And one feature-not-a-bug (depending on your perspective) is that it might provide progressives with an opportunity to laugh at me at a later date (probably not this year), when some future Republican Presidential candidate ekes out a 50.1 - 49.9 victory in Rhode Island, only to get 2 electoral votes out of it.

Finally, the ability to implement this system is fully under the control of the Rhode Island legislature. They don't have to wait for any other state to act. If those legislators who support NPV are truly interested in bringing more attention from Presidential campaigns to the state of Rhode Island, this could be implemented in time for the 2012 election, where the candidates will be going after every vote that's in play.

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We need to go back to the original concept of putting all of the names of candidates for Presidential Elector on the ballot, then having everyone vote directly for each individual Presidential Elector.

Posted by: Mike Rollins at April 4, 2012 9:29 AM

A state like RI should vehemently oppose a national popular vote. The electoral college gives comparatively greater voting power to residents of smaller states than it does to residents of larger ones. There's also little reason to believe that if we passed a NPV that candidates would suddenly care about RI when they haven't before. The reason RI hasn't mattered (at least in my lifetime) is that the outcome is almost never in doubt. We're a reliable D vote, and until that changes, candidates behavior won't change.

Compare RI to NH -- same number of electoral votes but NH is considered by some to be a swing state. Why? Because either major party candidate has a chance to win the state.

Posted by: jgardner at November 6, 2012 5:09 PM
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