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Group pitches change to how Alaska's electoral votes are cast

Posted: January 26, 2012 - 1:11am

The Alaska Legislature is considering whether the state should join the national popular vote movement, and cast its electoral votes for the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide, instead of the person who wins Alaska.

One critic, however, pointed out going with the national popular vote in 2008 would have resulted in Alaska’s three electoral votes going for Barack Obama.

Senate Bill 39 would have Alaska join a compact with a majority of other states, and pledge its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide, not to the winner of their own state, said Lisa Weissler, an aide to bill sponsor Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage.

Under the current system, she said, the only issues addressed are those important to handful of “battleground” states that are in play, and not issues important to solidly Republican or Democratic states.

“One candidate can bank our three electoral votes, while the other gives up on our state,” Weissler said.

The most notable recent case of the winner of the national popular vote not winning the presidency was in 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush won the Electoral College vote, and the presidency.

French, however, points out in 2004 the same thing could have easily happened, when Democrat John Kerry lost to Bush.

“A shift of just 60,000 votes in Ohio would have given John Kerry the electoral votes to win, despite President Bush leading in the national popular vote, the vote in all 50 states, by more than 3 million votes,” Weissler said.

Public testimony at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday largely favored the proposal.

Former Minnesota state Rep. Laura Brod, a Republican, visited Juneau Wednesday to support the measure.

“What this bill will do is guarantee the presidency to the candidate who wins the most votes in all 50 states,” she said.

She called it a non-partisan bill, which was supported by seven of 10 Alaskans in a recent poll.

Juneau’s Margo Waring said Senate Bill 39 was simply a matter of fairness, and that doesn’t happen when the popular vote winner is not elected president.

“Is that fair?” she asked, “No, that’s not fair, every vote should count and no votes should be discounted.”

City assembly member Ruth Danner said the current system means that only the votes in the battleground states are important to candidates.

“Why should my vote count less than a vote in Florida or South Carolina?” she asked.

She echoed Brod in saying the current system meant only those states’ issues got discussed on the national stage, and not Alaska’s.

“I want the candidates to talk about things like federal land management, I want them to talk about Native issues,” she said.

Fairbanks resident Randy Griffin opposed the measure, saying it would work to minimize Alaska’s outsize influence in the Electoral College.

“I understand why the liberals want to pass it because we vote conservative and they don’t like that,” he said.

Griffin said the state’s votes should only go to the winner of the vote in Alaska, but that wouldn’t have happened in 2008.

“Instead of recognizing the will of the Alaskan people, all of our votes would have gone to Barack Hussein Obama,” he said.

Brod said the national popular vote already has support from about one-fourth of the states needed to have enough electoral votes committed to the national popular winner to ensure his or her election, 270. If Alaska signs on, it won’t be committed to cast its electoral votes to the national popular vote winner until enough states sign on to guarantee 270 electoral votes will be similarly committed.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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