California electoral vote measure moves forward

Secretary of State Debra Bowen today cleared conservative activist Ted Costa to start collecting petition signatures for a proposed ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would split California’s presidential Electoral College votes starting next year.

California right now is a winner-take-all state: Whichever candidate wins the Golden State’s popular vote gets all 55 of its Electoral College votes. California’s votes went to the Republican presidential nominees from 1968 through 1988, and to the Democratic nominees since then.

But Costa – perhaps best known for helping to launch the recall effort that eventually replaced Gov. Gray Davis with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – wants California to follow Maine and Nebraska’s lead in awarding most of the state’s Electoral College votes according to the popular vote in each Congressional District, so that some can go to one candidate and some to another. Both those states adopted this method in 2008. Maine has used this method since 1972, Nebraska since 1992.

The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS. POLITICAL PARTY NOMINATION AND ELECTION BY CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires California to join two other states in selecting electors for president by the plurality vote in each congressional district. Two at-large electors to be selected based on plurality of statewide vote for president. Provides for political party nomination of electors pledged to vote for that party’s candidate. Mandates that electors vote for candidate for whom they are pledged. Independent electors to be chosen by independent presidential candidates and also elected by congressional district. Eliminates $10 compensation and 5 cents per mile reimbursement of electors. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Reduced state expenses of less than $10,000 every four years. (10-0024.)

Costa must collect signatures of 504,760 registered voters – the number equal to five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election – by July 5 in order to qualify it for 2012’s primary ballot.

A similar proposed measure backed by a Republican-funded group failed to get enough petition signatures to appear on the June 2008 ballot.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Omar

    ME and NE have not used it since 2008. Maine since 1972 and Nebraska since 1996…not 2008.

  • Josh Richman

    Omar: Thanks, I’d read my source wrong. But my sources show it was Maine in 1972 and Nebraska in 1992, so that’s how I’ve corrected it above.

  • Drew

    I see this guy Costa is a real ‘idea man’. He instigated the Davis recall (cost: 50 million) that gave us Schwarzenegger (worst Governor in history). Why should anyone buy into any more of his schemes ?

  • John W

    It should be noted that the number of splittable electoral votes is only two(out of 4 total) in Maine and three(out of 5 total) in Nebraska and that, in practice, all of those small states’ electoral votes have gone to the statewide winner.

  • It makes no sense for this to be done on an individual state basis. This is the sort of thing that should be done by all but not less than all of the states.

    It is also very clear that this is a tactic to weaken the Democrats in this state by peeling off some electors.

    If you want to have some fun why not amend the proposal to read that it becomes effective when Texas does the same thing,

  • John W

    Re: EdiBirsan #5

    Right you are. Costa is wasting his time. Don’t mess with CA — unless you mess with Texas too! Actually, you would have to combine Texas and another predominantly red state to balance CA. Texas/Georgia would do it. It doesn’t make sense for any large state (red, blue or purple) to do this, because the Electoral College system already under-weights the larger states. A bunch of small states get three electoral votes simply because they are allocated one for each Senator and Congressman, regardless of population. If the votes were allocated by population, California would get about 70 of the 538 electoral votes instead of 55. A majority of these very small, over-weighted states are red states like Kansas, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska etc. They would, at most, get one electoral vote each if things were based on population.

  • RE: John W
    In 2008, both political parties spent a considerable amount of money and effort trying to win the 2nd district in Nebraska. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, visited the district during the post-convention general election campaign. Both parties paid attention to the 2nd district because it was a closely divided battleground district where one electoral vote was at stake. The outcome was that Barack Obama carried the 2nd district by 3,378 votes and won one electoral vote in Nebraska.

    One Nebraska state senator whose district lies partially in the 2nd congressional district reported a heavy concentration of lawn signs, mailers, precinct walking, telephone calls to voters, and other campaign activity related to the presidential race in the portion of his state senate district that was inside the 2nd congressional district, but no such activity in the remainder of his state senate district. Indeed, the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts, because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) two-thirds of the state were irrelevant.

    Similarly, in Maine (which also awards electoral votes by congressional district), the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored

  • toto


    The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about 72% of the voters– voters in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. In 2008, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO– 68%, IA –75%, MI– 73%, MO– 70%, NH– 69%, NV– 72%, NM– 76%, NC– 74%, OH– 70%, PA — 78%, VA — 74%, and WI — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –75%, ME — 77%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NV — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, VT — 75%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR –80%, KY — 80%, MS –77%, MO — 70%, NC — 74%, and VA — 74%; and in other states polled: CA — 70%, CT — 74% , MA — 73%, MN – 75%, NY — 79%, WA — 77%, and WV- 81%.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 74 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  • John W

    Re: Tony Andrade #7

    Interesting observations. Whichever way we do it — winner take all, split by district or elminating the electoral college — involves tradeoffs. But I can’t imagine majority support for Costa’s proposal.

  • ralph hoffmann

    For most Californians, with our economy right now, we are a loser-take-none state.