California Initiative Could Split Electoral Votes

There is a huge political battle raging in California that is viewed as either a much needed quest for electoral reform or an attempt to steal the presidential election.

Republicans are backing a proposed ballot initiative that would change the way California allocates its Electoral College votes. Right now, the statewide winner gets all 55. The proposed initiative would instead award two votes to the winner of each congressional district.

A few weeks ago, it appeared the campaign for the initiative was dead. Backers had raised no money to pay for gathering signatures. Ultimately, the initiative's organizers walked away.

But the initiative itself was still on the books, and an entirely new crew of supporters took it up.

GOP Resurrects Measure

"We said we thought it would be the Freddy Krueger of initiatives and come back to life, and, indeed, at some level it has," says Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, who's spearheading the effort to defeat the measure.

But the prize offered by the Electoral College initiative was just too tantalizing for Republicans to let it fade away, he says.

"It would effectively give Republicans between 20 and 22 Electoral College votes, essentially handing them a state the size of Ohio, which would make it virtually impossible — or at least extremely difficult — for a Democrat to be able to win in 2008, even if that Democrat wins the majority vote," Lehane says.

But the initiative has nothing to do with partisan advantage, says Dave Gilliard, who is managing the initiative. Theoretically, Democrats could benefit, too.

For instance, in 1988 Michael Dukakis won 48 percent of the votes in California, he says, so it does not make sense for either party to be in favor of a winner-take-all system.

But in California politics, 1988 is a long time ago. In the past four presidential elections, California has become reliably Democratic. So, presidential candidates usually come here just to raise money and that's about it.

Gilliard says this initiative could change that.

"We want them to come here and actually campaign all throughout California," he says. "We want them to go to the Central Valley and the Inland Empire and the North Coast and talk to Californians about what's important to California."

Unlike the first campaign for the initiative, this one has money to spend. A large share of the credit for that goes to one of the Republican operatives who revived the measure, Anne Dunsmore.

Dunsmore was Rudolph Giuliani's chief fundraiser until she left the campaign in September. Other movers and shakers backing the measure have also been tied to Giuliani or to the co-chair of his campaign in California.

Campaign Denies Connection

Lehane thinks Giuliani is trying to give himself an advantage in the state if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee. All the connections between Giuliani and the initiative cannot be a coincidence, Lehane says. Opponents of the measure have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

But Giuliani's campaign says there is no connection between the candidate and the measure.

"The campaign had no knowledge and no involvement in this effort, and we'd be fine leaving it as it is. California is a state that Mayor Giuliani puts into play in the general election regardless of what rules are in place," Maria Comella, the Giuliani campaign's deputy communications director, says in a written statement.

California political analyst Tony Quinn says Democrats are overreacting.

"The likelihood of this ever passing is quite slim. I suspect that it's more a matter the Republicans would like to put it on the ballot, drive the Democrats crazy and make them spend $20 million defeating it," he says.

Polls show support for the measure is low.

Nevertheless, Democrats are throwing every obstacle available in the initiative's path. The latest is a request for the Los Angeles city attorney to investigate a news story that the initiative campaign was trading food for signatures among the homeless of Skid Row.

"The fact is, most homeless people aren't registered to vote, so it wouldn't make a lot of sense to go get them to sign these when you can go out to an area that has a high percentage of registered voters, a suburban area for instance," says Gilliard.

But even there, the campaign faced another obstacle.

Many of those suburban areas were out of bounds for a couple of weeks because of the Southern California wildfires.

Still, Gilliard insists, they will have more than 434,000 signatures needed by Dec. 1 to get the initiative on the ballot.

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