National popular vote bill advances
The state House has given final approval to a proposal calling for the abolition of the current Electoral College system of electing the U.S. president in favor of deciding the election by the national popular vote.
Under the proposal in Senate Bill 1956, the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote, rather than to the candidate chosen by state voters. The proposal would take effect only if states representing a majority of the nation's 538 electoral votes approved such legislation.
Supporters see it as a way to avoid scenarios such as in 2000, when Al Gore won the national popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. Opponents call the legislation unnecessary and constitutionally questionable.
"Part of (the push) is a result of the 2000 election in that Gore won the popular vote and would be president, and we probably wouldn't be in Iraq if he was president," said House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa). "That's very troubling to a lot of people today because of what we face in Iraq."
Earlier this week, the Maryland Legislature became the first to pass the popular vote proposal. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill. In Hawaii, GOP Gov. Linda Lingle has not stated a position on the bill.
The proposal passed with all eight House Republicans voting against the measure, joined by four Democrats.
Opponents included Rep. Della Au Belatti (D, Tantalus-Makiki), who argued that more debate is needed on the proposal in local communities.
"I know there's been debate since the 1970s," she said, "but on this particular measure, in our community, there hasn't been any debate."
Under the current system, voters support slates of electors, who then meet to choose the president. The Electoral College has 538 members -- equal to the number of members in Congress -- and the winning candidate needs at least 270 votes.
Hawaii has four points in the Electoral College, one of the least influential states, along with Alaska, Wyoming, North and South Carolina, each of which have three points. States with the most points include California (55) and Texas (34).
Both sides argued whether a state such as Hawaii would be hurt or helped by the proposal.
Supporters say the proposal ensures that every vote counts equally, arguing that in the current system, only a handful of swing states decide the election.
Belatti argued that if Honolulu-born presidential candidate Barack Obama were to carry Hawaii by a 70-30 margin, the state's electoral votes would have to be given to whoever won the popular vote, even if it was a Republican.
The state Senate approved the proposal last month by a 19-4 vote, with all opposition by Republicans.
The current "process serves us well," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai). If the system changed to popular vote, "it would make our voting really irrelevant."
He criticized the bill, saying it addresses a real problem in the wrong way -- the real problem being lack of voter confidence.
Star-Bulletin reporter Candice Novak and the Associated Press contributed to this story.