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Rep. co-sponsors but now against bill on electoral votes


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Feb 25, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

Newcomer’s flip-flop
Rep. co-sponsors but now against bill on electoral votes

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

If it seems silly to be talking about the 2012 presidential elections now, normally I would agree with you. Unfortunately, some members of the state Legislature are planning for 2012, and they want to take away your vote.

There is a bill being considered by the Legislature that would award Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate that wins the popular vote nationwide, regardless of how Wisconsin’s voters actually vote. Even though the next presidential election is over two years away, it looks like they are in a hurry to do it.

State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, introduced Assembly Bill 751 on Feb. 15. Two days later, the bill had a public hearing. Legislators don’t normally move that fast unless they’re Rep. Jeff Wood, I-Bloomer, behind the wheel of his 1998 Buick Skylark.

This bill is just a terrible idea, and it’s amazing Roys found co-sponsors.

The Electoral College is the actual voting body that elects the president of the United States. Each state is given one elector for each member of the House of Representatives, and one elector for each senator. Under this formula, Wisconsin gets 10 Electoral College votes.

To become president, a candidate must get a majority of the Electoral College votes nationwide.

Almost all states, including Wisconsin, give all of their votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state. In 2008, Barack Obama won the popular vote in Wisconsin, so he got Wisconsin’s 10 votes. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry won Wisconsin’s votes even though President Bush won the popular vote nationally.

Of course, this means that a candidate can become president even if they do not win the nationwide popular vote, like George Bush did in 2000. Kerry almost pulled off the same trick in 2004, but fell a few votes short in Ohio.

AB 751 would require Wisconsin to give its 10 Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide if a majority of states agree to do the same thing. As a result, in 2004 Wisconsin would have cast its votes for George Bush, even though the state went to John Kerry. The will of Wisconsin voters would not matter.

Making matters worse, we would not even have candidates taking into account Wisconsin’s interests on the campaign trail. They would target instead cities with much higher population densities.

No more visits to Waukesha from Barack Obama and former Vice President Al Gore. They would concentrate their efforts on places like Chicago, or they would go to Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or New York.

You think Obama is ignoring the Asian Carp situation now. Under this proposal, it’s unlikely he would have had anyone from Wisconsin even come and visit him.

The idea of putting the election of the president via a national referendum really got a boost after the 2000 debacle. But as confused as Florida was, try to imagine Florida’s mixed up recount stretched across the 50 states.

Clearly this bill is not in the national interest, and it is certainly not in the interests of Wisconsin.

That’s why it was so disappointing to see a conservative Republican like Scott Newcomer, R-Delafield, sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill. Newcomer has since withdrawn his name from co-sponsoring the bill, offering an explanation that was quoted in local radio personality Charlie Sykes’ blog:

“I rushed into putting my name on the bill and didn’t do the proper due diligence upfront. I made a mistake and now I am going to (be) fighting against it!”

As local blogger “Silent e” put it, Newcomer is pulling a John Kerry. He was for it before he was against it.

It’s this kind of inattention to detail that will fuel talk in Newcomer’s district how his personal and financial missteps have distracted him from his responsibilities, and it will only fuel his well-funded primary opponents.

Wisconsin’s Legislature has a responsibility to reject AB 751. Rep. Newcomer has a responsibility to actually read bills before he becomes a co-sponsor of them. If he can’t be trusted to handle his responsibilities, the voters in his district may find someone who can.


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