There is momentum behind a National Pop­ular Vote bill that would ensure the pres­i­dency to the can­di­date who receives the most pop­ular votes. The National Pop­ular Vote would count cit­i­zens’ indi­vidual votes in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, fun­da­men­tally altering the Elec­toral Col­lege system that enabled George W. Bush to win the elec­tion in 2000, despite his losing the pop­ular vote. Mass­a­chu­setts Gov­ernor Deval Patrick signed the bill this week, com­mit­ting the state’s Elec­toral Col­lege votes to the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who wins the national pop­ular vote. Bruce Wallin, asso­ciate pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence, dis­cusses the issue and how it might affect the Bay State.

What does the bill signed by the gov­ernor mean for Mass­a­chu­setts?

It means that Mass­a­chu­setts offi­cials have come to the con­clu­sion that the country should never elect a pres­i­dent who didn’t receive the most pop­ular votes nation­wide, which can happen under the cur­rent Elec­toral Col­lege system, where a can­di­date receives all of the Elec­toral votes for a state (12 for Mass­a­chu­setts) whether he or she wins 51 per­cent of the vote, or 90 per­cent It would have no actual effect on Mass­a­chu­setts. Can­di­dates would still cam­paign here as they always have.

Mass­a­chu­setts is the sixth state to adopt the leg­is­la­tion — Illi­nois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Mary­land, and Wash­ington have already enacted the laws. What is dri­ving this move­ment, and will other states follow suit?

The fact that Al Gore won more pop­ular votes nation­wide than George W. Bush in 2000, but still lost the elec­tion because Bush won the Elec­toral Col­lege. I think other states will follow suit — but likely not enough that would make a dif­fer­ence. The leg­is­la­tion will not go into effect unless the states that pass it together hold a majority of the Elec­toral Col­lege votes.

Which do you think is the better system of voting?

Each has its advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. The Elec­toral Col­lege allows each state to have some impor­tance, and thus force can­di­dates to cam­paign in many of them that they oth­er­wise would not. But a can­di­date can — and it has occurred on three occa­sions — win under this system without receiving the majority of the pop­ular votes. The public would see a direct pop­ular elec­tion as more legit­i­mate, more demo­c­ratic, reflecting the will of the majority or plurality.

Would a national pop­ular vote change how pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates campaign?

Yes. Cam­paigns would focus on areas with large pop­u­la­tions and ignore those in smaller states.

The cam­paigns would become even more media driven. That said, I think that overall, voters would prob­ably not notice much of a dif­fer­ence; just more polit­ical adver­tising and more appear­ances by can­di­dates in areas of the nation with the largest populations.