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March 29, 2007:
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By LIZ FARMER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - In an effort to draw more attention to Maryland from presidential candidates, the state Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would grant Maryland's 10 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, rather than the majority winner in the state.
"It's a stand on principle," said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, D-Montgomery, the sponsor of the bill, which passed 29-17 and now goes to the House of Delegates. "What we're saying is the person who won the national popular vote should be president."
The bill is part of a national discussion on whether the Electoral College should be changed or eliminated altogether because it can lead to presidential candidates spending much of their time and money in a small number of swing states.
"Maryland is safely blue so it is flown over," said Raskin. "Virginia is safely red, so it gets skipped. We know where the candidates go: Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, to name a few."
The change, supporters said, would also prevent a repeat of the 2000 election, brought up repeatedly during debate, in which Republican George W. Bush won enough key battleground states to win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore.
The electoral vote change would take effect only after enough states representing a majority of the nation's 538 electoral votes adopted it, making it unlikely the change would be in effect for next year's presidential election.
Still, the measure met bi-partisan resistance from lawmakers who predicted that a change in the Electoral College vote could result in a "chaotic" and expensive recount in a close election.
In a climate of court challenges and 100,000- or 200,000-vote margins, Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County, suggested that both parties would do everything possible to find more votes.
"If any party thinks they can find some votes in any state in the Union, they're going to go look for it," he said.
Others expressed reservations about changing the Constitution and the intent of the nation's founding fathers.
Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick, called the move "foolhardy." Sen. Michael G. Lenett, D-Montgomery, proposed a change to the bill which would have set up a commission to study the Electoral College, but it failed.
Lenett warned about the dangers of "subverting the constitution for political change." Before the final vote Wednesday, he again stood up and warned that the measure would hurt rural, less populous states.
"With the Electoral College you can have what happened in 2000, but without it you can have a president elected by only seven or eight major cities," he said.
Ostensibly, the bill would seem most beneficial to Republican presidential candidates. Three times since 1968 a majority of Marylanders have voted for Democrats when Republicans took the popular vote nationally. Had this law been in effect, Maryland's electoral votes would have gone to the Republican instead of the Democrat.
Supporters of the bill, all Democrats, acknowledged this possibility but said they were looking at the bigger picture.
"We would like everyone in the state to know their vote is counted," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., D-Calvert. "I think the feeling is that maybe by going to a national referendum, these smaller states can get more attention." Getting more attention is also the impetus behind moving the state's primary elections to an earlier date. Both houses of the Assembly have approved legislation to move the primary, and the measure is backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.