The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

January 29, 2008

Panel nixes popular vote measure

CHARLESTON — An attempt to lead West Virginia into a new era of voting for president by tying the hands of electors to the popular vote got nowhere Tuesday with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For nearly 45 minutes, senators shuddered at the thought of a few electoral-heavy states making the decision on the occupant in the White House.

More than one panelist recalled the thinking of the Founding Fathers before resoundingly killing SB52.

Lawrence Sokol of Mountain View, Calif., a spokesman for National Popular Vote, said the proposal wouldn’t scrap the Electoral College, but states joining a compact must abide by a standard rule — its votes go to the candidate who wins the popular vote.

Four times in history, he noted, a president has claimed victory while failing to be the people’s choice, winning in the electoral college.

Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, speculated that candidates would be less inclined to visit small states, but Sokol disagreed, saying a vote in West Virginia would be as important as one in Ohio or Florida.

“West Virginia has been fortunate in the last two elections to have been

a battleground state,” he said.

White appeared unconvinced, however, saying, “I have mixed feelings about the popular vote.”

Across the nation, half a dozen states traditionally are considered “safe” for Democrats and a like number for Republicans, Sokol said.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, wanted to let the bill linger until the committee could invite some history professors in to lecture members on the electoral process.

As written, Sokol said, the proposal would obligate West Virginia, by joining a compact, to send the electors of the party whose candidate captured the popular vote nationwide to the nation’s capital, even if Mountain State voters went for the rival.

Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, said a compact would have the effect of disenfanchising non-member states.

Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer, denounced the measure as one that would let huge states pick the president, asking, “Why are we even discussing it here?”

“If you are satisfied with California, New York and two other states deciding who is the president, then this is the bill for you,” he added.

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