The latest political story to come out of California has a yet-unreported twist: the proposal to scrap the current winner-take-all by state system for awarding electoral votes in the Presidential election with a system that is winner-take-all by congressional district is actually 51 years old. Had the Mundt-Coudert amendment been passed by Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states when it was first offered back in 1956, the Presidents of the United States and American history itself might have been very different.
Under the statewide initiative known as the Presidential Election Reform Act, which was filed with election officials in Sacramento two weeks ago for submission on the June 3 primary ballot, the Golden State’s 55 electoral votes would be divied up with one for the winner of each of California’s 53 House Districts and two for the winner statewide. Under such a system, George W. Bush would have won 22 electoral votes in ’04, since he carried 22 districts; under the present system, John Kerry won all of California’s electoral votes since he carried the state by a margin of 55% to 44% statewide.
To no one’s surprise, the initiative was filed by a Committee for Equal Representation, the filing done by Tom Hiltachk, whose law firm represents the state Republican Party and which has worked with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The opposition to the proposed electoral vote change is handled by Californians for Fair Election Reform, which the state’s two Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein helped form.
But what has not yet been reported is that the idea of electoral votes by congressional districts has been around since 1956. In reporting on the amendment filed by Sen. Karl Mundt (R.-S.D.) and Rep. Frederick Coudert (R.-NY), HUMAN EVENTS (February 11, 1956) pointed out that the measure “would divide up the electoral vote in each state on the same basis as Senators and House members now are elected — that is, two presidential electors would be chosen at large, the rest byn congressional districts.”
Noting that Mundt-Coudert enjoys “more favor among press observers and students of the question,” HUMAN EVENTS reminded readers that M-C “was actually the way electoral votes were cast in the early days of the Republic — before grasping politicos set up the “winner take all” system.
Mundt-Coudert went nowhere. Neither have proposals that come out after every close presidential election calling for abolishing the Electoral College and replacing it with popular election of the President — as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-NY) proposed in her first year in office.
Mundt-Coudert has returned, at least in California (Maine and Nebraska, with a combined nine electoral votes, are the only two states that divide electoral votes by congressional districts.) The latest Field Poll shows that 47% favor the electoral vote by congressional district proposal, with 35% opposed.