Massachusetts passes bill awarding electoral votes to winner of national popular vote

Alternate headline: “Massachusetts disenfranchises self.”

Senate minority leader Richard Tisei said the state was meddling with a system that was “tried and true” since the founding of the country.

“We’ve had a lot of bad ideas come through this chamber over the years, but this is going to be one of the worst ideas that has surfaced and actually garnered some support,” said Tisei, who is also the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

The bill, which passed on a 28-to-9 vote, now heads to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick’s desk. The governor has said in the past that he supports the bill, said his spokeswoman Kim Haberlin.

Under the law, which was enacted by the House last week, all 12 of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the candidate who receives the most votes nationally.

Note well: The law only goes into effect if/when states accounting for 270 combined electoral votes pass this same bill, thereby ensuring that the winner of the national popular vote will have the EVs he needs to be elected president under the Constitution. Only five states accounting for a combined 61 votes have passed it thus far, so if Obama wins Massachusetts in 2012 but his Republican opponent wins the popular vote overall, Mass stays blue. Nothing to worry about then? Well, not quite: New York, which has 31 EVs, is on the brink of passing it and California, with 55 EVs, has twice pushed it through the legislature only to have it die on Schwarznegger’s desk. Assume those two states finally get the job done and suddenly we’re at 147 combined electoral votes pledged to the winner of the popular vote — more than halfway to the goal.

Even so, I’m not that worried. For one thing, I remember reading during the 2008 campaign (can’t find the cite, alas) that the odds of a presidential candidate winning the popular vote but not the electoral college are extremely small. It’s possible, of course — ask Al Gore — but it’s really hard to do, so this gambit will end up deciding the election only in extremely unusual circumstances. Beyond that, while the number of states that are looking at this idea is growing, it’s probably only the reliably blue ones that will go for it. Why would Florida or Ohio, say, forfeit their electoral votes by signing on when their swing-state status ensures plenty of extra attention from the candidates every four years? The more blue states sign up for this, the cooler red states and purple states will be to it, to the point where I wonder how big realistically this bloc can get. 200 EVs, maybe, until other states start walking away? Three cheers for self-interest!