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Scot Lehigh

A better way to elect a president

True or false: The nation is in the midst of a heated, hard-fought, every-vote-counts presidential campaign.

False.

Continue reading below

Ohio and Florida are certainly immersed in such a campaign. So are Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, and Colorado. Because Paul Ryan is on the GOP ticket, Wisconsin gets to be part of things. North Carolina got a convention. New Hampshire gets regular campaign visits.

But as for the rest of the nation? Well, residents of California or Texas or New York or Arizona or Massachusetts or Georgia or Oregon or Louisiana may be providing dollars for the battle elsewhere, but they’re not seeing any campaign action.

Let’s face it: If you don’t live in a swing state, neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama will be jetting your way for a rally. You probably won’t even get a consolation visit from Joe Biden or Paul Ryan.

Nor will there be similar concern for your concerns. Does anyone really think Ohio would be receiving the same loving care from President Obama if a Democratic victory there wouldn’t make Romney’s path to the presidency such a steep uphill climb?

So as we watch the campaign take place in other places, let’s take a minute to revisit an idea that could transform our swing-state-to-swing-state campaign into a real national election: The National Popular Vote plan.

Here’s how it works: As allowed under the Constitution, states would join an interstate compact whose members agree to award all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide. So far, eight states plus the District of Columbia, for a total of 132 electoral votes, have signed on. When enough join to raise that tally to 270 — the number needed to elect a president — the new system would take effect.

When it did, every vote would count, no matter where it was cast. Even if candidates knew they were certain to win or lose a state, they would still have an incentive to maximize their tallies there. Distance would likely keep Hawaii and Alaska off the campaign map, but candidates would have an incentive to court votes everywhere else. Contrariwise, there would be far less reason to obsess on Ohio. Winning an extra vote there wouldn’t matter any more than securing another in Texas.

In New England, New Hampshire would suffer a loss of general election attention, but voters in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island could expect to be courted by visiting candidates.

So far, opposition to the idea has come mainly from conservatives — last year, the Republican National Committee went on record against the plan — which puzzles some Republicans.

“I think it makes a tremendous amount of sense,” says former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, second-place finisher in the 2011 contest for Republican National chairman. “But there is a knee-jerk reaction by Republicans and conservatives to be opposed because it is a change, and they don’t want change.”

One oft-expressed reason is that the plan would hurt small states. But as National Popular Vote founder John Koza notes, “the current system doesn’t help the rural states” and for a simple reason: hardly any of them are swing states.

There’s also a suspicion that the National Popular Vote plan would change an arrangement that favors the GOP, and in the days when the Democrats’ Electoral College path usually depended on winning Ohio, that worry might have had merit.

But the map has changed. In this election and the last, the Democrats had and have more plausible routes to the magic 270 than the Republicans. Indeed, as Anuzis notes, this year “there’s a potential that Mitt Romney could win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College.” The popular vote plan would eliminate such a possibility in future contests.

Despite the RNC’s stance, Koza expects interest to increase once this campaign is over.

“I think this election will help us a lot because 41 states are being ignored,” he says.

Let’s hope so. The National Popular Vote proposal offers an ingenious way to transform our antiquated presidential elections into contests where every vote counts.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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