Finley: Make national popular vote count

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

The 2016 presidential race is being fought in roughly a dozen states where the candidates will spend 90 percent of their time and nearly all of their money.

The rest of the country will sit back and watch.

As a fringe battleground state, Michigan will be among the states that get a burst of attention, but it will end as soon as polls show voters here have made up their minds. Meanwhile, its neighbor, Ohio, will see candidates and campaign ads to the final hour of balloting.

Sophisticated analytics, assisted by the archaic Electoral College system, have turned national presidential contests into targeted exercises that zero in on small pockets of undecided voters who can be swayed in one direction or the other and thus deliver key electoral votes to a candidate.

Voters in those states that are reliably Republican or Democrat are basically ignored, as are residents of less populated states.

In 2012, only 1 of the 13 smallest states — New Hampshire — received any of the 253 campaign events held nationwide during the general election campaign. That year, 80 percent of campaign events were focused on just 9 closely divided battleground states.

Those contested states benefit not just from political attention, but also from government largesse.

Battleground states get 7 percent more of the grants controlled by the executive office, and twice as many disaster declarations, according to the National Popular Vote, an organization pushing a measure to elect presidents by popular rather than electoral votes.

Policy also is influenced by battleground status. For example, the government maintains its discredited ethanol fuel mandate because the corn-growing state of Iowa is up for grabs in presidential elections. Education reform polled well in Ohio and Pennsylvania, so Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act. Immigration reform was a priority in California, Arizona and Texas, but since those states are a lock for one party or the other, immigration was put on a back burner.

Under the current winner-take-all Electoral College system, not all votes count. If you’re a Republican in overwhelmingly Democratic New York, you may as well stay home on Election Day. Same goes for a Democrat in Oklahoma, where even a dead Republican would win.

The National Popular Vote movement would award each state’s electoral votes on the basis of the national vote total. It would not require a constitutional amendment, since it maintains the Electoral College. It has passed in 11 states, and as soon as states totaling 270 electoral votes adopt it, it will take effect nationwide. Michigan’s House passed a National Popular Vote bill in 2008, but it died in the Senate. A new bill has been introduced.

The proposal should get legs. It would equalize political clout. Presidential candidates would truly have to campaign nationwide and couldn’t afford to ignore small states or those already in a partisan pocket.

And it would head off the anger and confusion that will come in that inevitable future election when the popular and Electoral College votes are wildly out of whack.

Nolan Finley’s book “A Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.