Assemblymember Jerry Hill said a new state bill could make national politicians pay more attention to California at a press conference in the Friday morning.
On Thursday, the state legislature approved AB 459, the National Popular Vote Bill. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill into law, California will become the eighth state to join a national movement trying to guarantee that the president is elected by the majority national vote.
"It makes every vote matter," said Hill, who sponsored the legislation. "Flyover states like California will be a thing of the past."
As it stands, the president is chosen by the 538 members of the Electoral College. Each state gets one representative in the Electoral College, or "elector," for every representive it has in Congress. California has the largest number of electors of any state at 55.
States have the authority to decide how their electors are selected. These days, nearly all states use a "winner-take-all" system, where the Presidential candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote in the state gets all of its electors. This means that most states vote as a block, with all of their votes going to one candidate.
If signed into law, the National Popular Vote Bill would essentially enter California into an agreement with other states that have also passed it. Those states have agreed to award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes nationally. There's a catch, though: the law won't be triggered until it's been enacted by enough states to control the majority of the Electoral College.
Usually the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins the election in the Electoral College, but not always. In 2000, President George W. Bush won the election with a minority of the national popular vote. Advocates of the National Popular Vote Bill say that with the United States increasingly facing close elections, it's important to guarantee that the winner of the popular vote is elected.
If California signs on, a total of 132 of the country's 538 electors will be part of the National Popular Vote agreement. Once 270, or more than 50 percent, of the electoral votes become part of the agreement, it will go into effect.
The current winner-take-all system has caused presidential candidates to focus their campaigns on swing states, states where they believe the vote is close enough to go for either the Democrat or the Republican. In the 2008 election, 99 percent of campaign events were held in 16 states, and two-thirds of campaign events were held in six swing states—Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado—according National Popular Vote.
"Our current presidential campaigns are today are regional campaigns on regional issues," said Ray Haynes, a Republican and former California state senator.
Despite its large size, California gets little attention during presidential campaigns because the state nearly always goes to the Democratic candidate in the winner-take-all system. In 2008, Californians donated $150 million to presidential campaigns, but candidates spent only $30,000 on in-state advertising during the height of the campaign season.
Hill said the electoral system allows politicians to ignore issues important to Californians, like the high tech industry, biotech industry and environmental issues while focusing outsized attention on issues in swing states.
"We're still giving ethanol subsidies in the Midwest," Hill said. "Both candidates in the last election supported offshore oil drilling. That's something Californians have different opinions about."
"California has a serious water issue, but no candidate has a real water policy," Haynes said.
The National Popular Vote Bill has passed the California legislature twice before, in 2006 and 2008, but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. San Mateo County's State Senator Leland Yee voted for the bill.
If Brown signs this law, California will still continue to award its electoral votes in a winner-take-all system. But if enough states follow California's path, that will change.