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Bill would revamp how Md. awards Electoral College votes

Trump held a comfortable lead of 306 votes to 232 for Hillary Clinton, based on the popular vote tallied on and after Nov. 8.

When nearly $1 billion worth of campaign finance spending in a presidential elections focuses on just five or six states, there is clear evidence of a problem for our nation. Yet, our Electoral College voting system is designed to incentivize this targeted strategy to the detriment of a majority of citizens outside these few swing states. This structure has created a fundamental flaw to our democracy, and we must break through the logjam of politics to fix it.

I recently introduced legislation (Senate Bill 582) in the Maryland General Assembly that commits our state to awarding its Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, contingent on a state with a similar number of electoral votes that voted for Trump in 2016 doing the same. This legislation, the first of its kind in the United States, is a response to three questions.

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First: Is the current Electoral College system for electing the president good for the United States?

Second: Is the current Electoral College system for electing the president good for Maryland?

Third: If the answer to the first two questions is “no,” what should the Maryland General Assembly do about it?

The answer to the first question is clearly “no” for many reasons.

The current system is unfair. In every other election, all votes count equally and the candidate with the most votes wins. That simple and fair rule should also apply to the single most important election in the country.

The American people agree. A recent survey conducted by Make Every Vote Count shows 74 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents favor electing the president by the popular vote.

One American who appears to agree is President Donald Trump, who has often said he would prefer a popular vote and that the Electoral College is a “sham,” a “travesty,” and a “disaster for democracy.”

The answer to the second question — whether the Electoral College is good for Maryland — is also clearly “no.”

Consider that in 2016, two nearby states, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, received 55 and 54 visits by presidential candidates, respectively.

Maryland had none.

That means that neither candidate ever thought about Maryland’s concerns, such as protecting the Chesapeake Bay, or its large federal workforce or rebuilding the great post-industrial city of Baltimore.

This myopia carries over to governing.

Consider the recent report that, “President Trump has asked friends and advisers how they think the shutdown has affected him politically and what he should be doing to recover his standing in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.”

To state the obvious: He is not asking how to improve his standing in Maryland.

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The president is being totally rational in focusing on the small number of swing states, reflecting the incentives of the current system.

But we would be irrational to not face the truth that the current system is both unfair and bad for Maryland, as well as most other states.

So what should we do about it?

The founding fathers provided a roadmap for reform in the U.S. Constitution by leaving the allocation of Electoral College votes up to the discretion of the individual states.

And so, the legislation I propose is the answer.

By enacting this simple legislation, Maryland will embrace true democracy and send the message that there are no red or blue states, only the United States.

According to statistical analysis, if about 20 electors from blue states and an equal number from red states are chosen by the national popular vote, then the presidential campaigns will have no choice but to compete to win the popular vote. Under the “pairing strategy,” our country only needs a few states to follow Maryland’s lead to greatly strengthen our democracy.

This is a no risk strategy for Maryland, or for any similarly ignored state. If not enough states follow to change the dynamics of the presidential campaign, Maryland voters are no worse off. If, however, Maryland’s action lights the fuse that other states follow, Marylanders and all Americans will be better off.

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The current system of allocating Electoral College votes is bad for Maryland and America. The public overwhelming agrees, as do political leaders across the political spectrum. Maryland should start the process to ensure that in 2020, presidential candidates do not ignore voters, both Republican and Democrats, in non-swing states and instead campaign for all Americans.

Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, represents Baltimore City in the Maryland Senate (email: bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us; Twitter: @senbillferg).

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