This year’s national political conventions get underway next
Monday when the Democrats convene in Denver.
The Republicans meet a week later in St.
Paul, Minn. So starts
the post-Olympics sprint to Election Day for Barack Obama and John McCain.

The winner needs to cobble together a combination of states
to secure 270 votes in the Electoral College. As we’ve seen four times in U.S.
history, most recently in 2000, that doesn’t necessarily require winning the
popular vote.

You can’t win any other office without winning the popular
vote; some require a majority, even if it means a run-off.

Almost half of the states – including California – have legislation pending to
change the system.

The Electoral College has its defenders. They say a
president needs more than regional appeal, and the Electoral College requires
candidates to court voters over a wide geographic area. Supporters also say it ensures
that candidates pay attention to small states – at least small purple states –
rather than focusing solely on big states.

Critics say the Electoral College is an anachronism that
ignore the one-person,one-vote principle and gives too much weight to small states in picking a president. And, of course,
many Democrats are still sore that President Bush was elected in 2000 despite
losing the popular vote to Al Gore.

It would take a constitutional amendment to get rid of the
Electoral College, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Critics instead are pushing legislation that would give all of a
state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. (With the
exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, all states now apportion electoral votes based on the
state’s popular vote.) California
lawmakers recently sent such a bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even if he
signs the bill, it would take effect only if similar laws were adopted in a
combination of states with at least 270 electoral votes. Bills are pending in at
least 22 other states, according to a California
state Senate analysis. Eight states already have said no.

Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill two years ago. What do you think he should do this time?

We might write
more on this subject on the Editorial Page this week.

— Jim Sweeney