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State Sen. Borrello proposes split of electoral votes

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, have proposed legislation that would allow the state’s Electoral College for president and vice president to be split along Congressional District.

Borrello has introduced S.9039 in the state Senate to amend the state’s Election Law. Current law gives all of the state’s Electoral College votes to the statewide winner of the presidential election regardless of the margin of victory. That approach is antithetical to the concept of the popular vote.

“Every campaign season, citizens are encouraged to exercise their right to vote and are barraged with messaging that their ‘vote matters.’ Yet, every four years, that notion is wholly undermined when the two major party candidates for president focus their presence, platform and resources on a handful of swing states, at the expense of New York voters whose electoral votes are a foregone conclusion under the current system,” Borrello said. “Regional political differences are obscured and it increases assumptions by people in both parties that their vote for president is irrelevant.”

The legislation advanced by Senator Borrello and Assemblyman Goodell stands in contrast to a measure Governor Cuomo signed into law in 2016 that committed New York to the National Popular Vote compact, an interstate agreement in which member states pledge all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide, even if that candidate received few votes within the state. Such an approach makes a mockery of the vote within each state, and dilutes the importance and value of individual state rights.

“Although the Constitution established the Electoral College system, it does not mandate the framework by which states must choose electors or allocate electoral votes. The congressional district method is a proven alternative that would achieve the goal of strengthening New Yorkers’ influence in presidential campaigns. It is entirely consistent with the electoral process that our Founding Fathers originally designed, while reflecting more accurately the popular vote within the state,” said Goodell said.

Maine and Nebraska allocate Electoral College votes based on the popular vote within the state. Maine adopted a system called the congressional district method for its assignment of Electoral College votes in 1972. According to a recent story in the Portland Press-Herald in response to a reader’s question, the break from tradition was a byproduct of the 1968 presidential election, a three-way race between Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and independent candidate George Wallace. There was concern in the state that a candidate who didn’t earn a majority of votes could win all four of the state’s Electoral College votes.

The change took effect in 1972 after quick passage by the Maine Legislature, though the first time the state’s Electoral College votes were actually split was the 2016 election, when President Donald Trump received one Electoral College vote. Nebraska’s change took place in 1996 and gives three of its votes to Congresaional District winners and two to the statewide winners. Only once have Nebraska’s electoral votes been split. That came in 2008, when Nebraska gave four of its electoral votes to John McCain and one to President Barack Obama.

The issue would likely be more contentious in New York than it was in Maine given the difference in the number of Electoral College votes in play. Nebraska adopted its system in 1992, dividing its five Electoral College votes by giving three votes to its Congressional Districts and two to the winner of the statewide popular vote. New York currently has 29 Electoral College votes compared to Maine’s four electoral votes and Nebraska’s five electoral votes.

Neither President Trump nor challenger Joe Biden has spent much time in New York state since the prevailing wisdom is that Biden will easily win New York state and its 29 Electoral College votes.

“The current approach also minimizes the role of New York state voters in selecting the president and vice-president. Since New York City Democrats dominate statewide elections, neither presidential candidate spends any time or effort courting upstate New York voters,” Borrello wrote.

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