A House panel on Monday approved a measure, that, had it been in effect in 2000, would have meant Al Gore would have been president.
The legislation is designed to do an end-run around the Electoral College system that has been in place since the United States was formed.
That system assigns electoral votes to each state based on the number of House and Senate seats. More to the point, the president is elected only when a candidate gets at least half of the 538 votes, regardless of who got more popular votes nationwide.
Nothing in HB2456 would change that.
Instead, the proposal by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would require Arizona to enter into deals with other states: Once there is agreement by states totaling 270 electoral votes, each would require its electors to cast their vote for whoever wins the national popular vote.
Put simply, at that point it would no longer matter if Arizonans supported the Republican candidate for president. Its electors would have to vote for the Democrat if he or she got more votes nationwide.
The move came over the sharp objections of a series of speakers who feared what would happen.
“It’s a direct attack on our republic and will lead us down the path to what is known as direct democracy, that is, direct government ruled by the majority, often referred to as mob rule,” said Robert Hathorne.
That theme was echoed by former state Rep. Barbara Blewster.
She said the Founding Fathers set up the electoral system so that residents of states voted for electors, people who were more learned on the issues of the day. Then the electors would go to Washington and decide who would make the best president.
But Mesnard said that’s not the system we have now. Instead, Arizona law requires all 11 electors to cast their ballots for whoever wins the statewide popular vote.
That, he said, makes Arizona irrelevant in the national election as candidates spend their time and money in swing states with a large number of electoral votes.
“So what happens is we get ignored,” Mesnard said, making Arizona a “flyover” state as presidential hopefuls cater to voters in places like Ohio and Florida. By contrast, if a candidate has to get more popular votes than any foe, that makes each and every popular vote matter — even those from Arizonans.
He conceded that would have made Democrat Al Gore the president in 2000. He got 50,996,582 votes according to the Federal Register, against 50,456,026 for George W. Bush. But Bush tallied 271 electoral votes, versus 266 for Gore.
That also would have made Gore the president the day terrorists hijacked planes and attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and put him in charge of determining the proper response.
Mesnard said that’s a “matter of speculation.” Anyway, he said, future elections could just as easily go the other way, with a Republican outpolling a Democrat for the popular vote.
“But that’s not really the point,” he said. “The point is what’s good for Arizona.”
That’s also the assessment of Patrick Rosenstiel who runs a political consulting firm in Minnesota who came to testify to the committee.
“Unless you live in one of 11 battleground states you are not overly relevant to the presidential campaigns,” he told lawmakers.
For example, he said in 2012 presidential candidates from both parties spent more than $175 million in Florida. Rosentiel said total in-state spending by candidates in Arizona was $40,350.
But he said it’s not just about money. He said the candidates spent more time trying to cater to the issues of Florida voters than those here.
And he said once a president gets elected, the issues in those battleground states are likely to get more attention than those elsewhere.
Only Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, voted against the measure, saying she wants to study it more before it goes to the full House.