Maryland Senate Moves to Change Electoral College Designation

3In an effort to draw more attention to Maryland from presidential candidates, state lawmakers are moving to change the way Maryland's 10 Electoral College votes are assigned, from giving them from the majority winner in the state to the winner of the national popular vote.

The House of Delegates will shortly be taking up the measure that passed the state Senate on Wednesday on a 29-17 vote. Both chambers are solidly Democratic.

"It's a stand on principle," said Democratic Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, the sponsor of the bill. "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, 37 states have introduced legislation to change the electoral vote system. In 2006, both chambers in California passed a national popular vote bill. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill and it was not brought back up. Arkansas, Colorado and Hawaii have each had at least one chamber pass similar legislation.

Maryland's Senate measure met bipartisan 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.

Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney called the move "foolhardy." Democratic Sen. Michael G. Lenett 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. "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.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.