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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new bill could mean the end of the Electoral College as Americans know it.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is at its core an agreement between states to award all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote, thereby ensuring that the candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote wins the presidential election.
The bill has been signed into law in nine states, for a total of 132 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The bill enjoyed a major boost from the state of California, which signed it into law Aug. 8 and has 55 electoral votes, the most in the nation. The law will go into effect once the electoral votes of the states that have signed it equal or exceed 270.
The constitutionality of the compact has not been a major obstacle for proponents of the bill, because Article II of the Constitution reserves for states the right to appoint electors "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct."
Currently, 48 states guarantee their electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, with Maine and Nebraska being the exceptions. California and Hawaii at first vetoed the bill, saying it could lead to their respective states' electoral votes going to the candidate who lost the statewide popular vote.
The bill's proponents, though, say that is irrelevant: abolishing the Electoral College, at least in effect, ensures "every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election."
"The true appeal of a national popular vote is to expand presidential elections beyond the swing states and into every part of the country," Jason Farago wrote in a December 2011 editorial in the Guardian's U.S. edition.
Farago argued that at present, only "swing states" such as New Hampshire or Pennsylvania make a difference in the outcome of an election.
The compact would also prevent a repeat of the 2000 election, which may explain why traditionally blue states have been among the first to sign on.
George W. Bush won the election with 271 electoral votes to Al Gore's 266 votes, but the Texas governor lost the popular vote, 47.9 percent to 48.4 percent. After a heated battle for Florida's 25 electoral votes, Bush was awarded the presidency despite losing the popular vote.
It was the first time a candidate had lost the popular vote but won the election since the 19th century, when in 1888 Benjamin Harrison won a plurality of electoral votes over incumbent Grover Cleveland. John Quincy Adams, in 1824, and Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1876, also won the election without winning the popular vote.
The 2000 election threw the Electoral College into the national spotlight because of the recount controversy in Florida -- Bush's margin of victory was slim enough that a mandatory recount took place in four Florida counties. Two of the counties failed to submit new totals, though, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court called for a halt on the recount. If Florida's 25 electoral votes had gone to Gore, he would have won the presidency.
The true appeal of a national popular vote is to expand presidential elections beyond the swing states and into every part of the country.
The election ignited a storm of controversy and threw the Electoral College to center stage, eventually leading to the introduction of the National Popular Vote bill. But the question remains whether the bill has enough popular support to have a legitimate chance at becoming law.
An October 2011 Gallup poll suggests it does. The poll found that 62 percent of Americans would support a Constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College in favor of a direct-election system. The current system, in which the candidate who receives the most votes in the Electoral College wins the election, is supported by 35 percent of Americans.
The National Popular Vote bill has reached various stages in the 41 states that have not adopted it. Two states, Colorado and Rhode Island, have passed the legislation in both houses and are awaiting gubernatorial approval. Ten other states have passed the bill in one house and are awaiting votes in the second. These include New York and Michigan, whose 45 electoral votes would be a major step in reaching the needed 270. If passed in the 10 states that have already passed the bill in one house, the compact would be short only 40 electoral votes before it would be activated.
Hearings on the bill have been held in the Utah state legislature, but nothing has been passed thus far. A Nov. 11, 2011, an unscientific ksl.com poll with a sample size of 1,131 found that 70 percent of respondents favored abolishing the Electoral College. The college was favored by 26 percent of respondents.