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California approves of national popular vote initiative

A bill that would commit California’s 55 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote (NPV) in presidential elections was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday. The bill would only come into effect if enough states sign similar legislation so that a majority of the College, or 270 votes, would be committed to the popular vote winner.

California joins seven other states and Washington, D.C., in having signed such a bill. Combined, the effort now has 132 electoral votes, just under half of what is needed to make NPV a reality. All the states who have passed the legislation are blue states and extremely likely to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate.

Political scientists are predicting a close election in 2012, due to sluggish economic growth and mediocre presidential approval ratings. That could mean a repeat of the 2000 election, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won a majority of Electoral College votes. The NPV is explicitly intended to prevent this eventuality, although the initiative is unlikely to be enacted by 2012.

Advocates for NPV argue that it is in the interest of Republican-dominated states like Texas to enact NPV because of how the Electoral College incentivizes presidential campaigns to concentrate their efforts on just a handful of swing states. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with one of the co-founders of the NPV movement, Vikram David Amar:

Amar said it’s possible that if momentum keeps building, the change could become enacted by the 2016 race. But he warned that a Republican-leaning state needs to sign on, since all of the nine states that have approved the law so far are solidly blue.

“Because the outcome in Texas is already known, they are ignored just as much as New York and California, so hopefully some big red states understand this is to their advantage to do, too,” he said. “If a red state doesn’t join it soon, I worry people will misunderstand this as a pro-Democrat, anti-Republican thing when it’s not that at all.”

Although no red state has passed NPV yet, a large majority of the Republican-controlled New York state Senate voted in favor of the compact in June, suggesting that it has the potential for bipartisan support.

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