OPINION: Bill Would Move Md. to Forefront of How We Elect Presidents

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

I have mixed feelings about the Electoral College. One is that many of my constituents don’t even know what it is. And that concerns me. We all took civics classes in eighth or ninth grades then most of us move on to subjects that interest us more and forget most of what we learned in that class.

When I was first taught about the Electoral College in my civics class at Great Mills High School, I was a bit perplexed. I had always believed that during every presidential election, the general public voted directly for its president and vice president and the candidate who received more votes, won the election.

But that’s not the case. Once people find out that they are not directly voting for their choice to be the next President and Vice President of the United States, they start to question the process. The Electoral College has a long history dating back to the Constitutional Congress. States elect the president based on the number of Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives there are in each state. Of course, each state has two U.S. Senators, but their House delegation differs by population. The higher the population in each state, the more U.S. Representatives they receive. In Maryland, we have eight U.S. House representatives as well as two U.S. Senators.

I have a personal connection to the Electoral College having been a member myself in 1976. Along with nine other members from the state of Maryland, we all met in Annapolis on December 13 of that year to elect Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale to be our choice for President and Vice President of the United States. Carter and Mondale later prevailed in the national election in a tight race over incumbent President Gerald Ford.

Additionally, my mother and aunt also served as presidential electors in separate elections.

While I have a particular affinity for the Electoral College for these personal reasons, I can understand why there is sentiment to replace what some say is an archaic system. This is why I am interested in a bill before my Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that was heard on March 8.

Senate Bill 634 would allow Maryland to join a number of states to be a part of the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.” Under this Agreement, Maryland would commit its presidential electors to the national popular vote winner in a presidential election.

This means that if a candidate for president wins the national popular vote, every state would send its electors to vote for the popular election winner rather than the way the system is set up now.

For instance, under the current electoral vote system, a state could vote 50.1 percent for the winner of that state and 49.9 would vote for the losing candidate. Even by that razor thin margin, all of the electors are compelled to vote for the candidate who won the most votes in that state.

During our committee, two very prestigious former Members of Congressman, U.S. Senator Birch Bayh (D-Indiana) and U.S. Representative John Buchanan (R-Alabama), made a very compelling case for why the Electoral College system needs to be changed. I listened to their testimony intently as did every member of the committee. Both Senator Bayh and Representative Buchanan presented strong evidence why the constitution should be changed so that every voter actually votes for their choice of president and vice president rather than for an elector that may not be casting a vote for their choice. Surprisingly, there was no opposition to this bill.

The sponsor showed the committee public opinion polls demonstrating that virtually 70 percent of Americans favor popular election of the president. They also testified that voter turnout has shown to be deeply depressed in states where the choice for the presidential race is a foregone conclusion.

During the last political election in Maryland, polls showed Senator John Kerry leading George W. Bush by a substantial margin. Then- Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich even went so far as to tell President Bush to skip the state so he could use his resources in more competitive jurisdictions. Because of this, Marylanders were basically deprived of seeing either one of the presidential candidates.

I have not made up my mind regarding this legislation, but the strong testimony provided by the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bayh and Representative Buchanan, was strong enough to make me think long and hard about this monumental and perhaps necessary change in the way we elect the most important leader in our country. I look forward to hearing your feelings regarding this subject.

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