As Minnesotans are only too aware just now, national political contests are often decided by other people in other states. And it's not only Minnesotans who have a right to feel underenfranchised. As the recent scramble to rearrange primary and caucus dates showed, voters in many states that aren't Iowa or New Hampshire wish the political system spread the democratic process around more evenly.
But that's nothing compared to what will happen in the months between the national conventions and the November election. In 2004, when ours was considered a battleground state, Minnesotans had a chance to be part of the action. Most election years, though, Minnesota has been classed as a Democratic lock, and thus not a wise place for a national campaign to spend its time, energy or money.
The gap between the states that get lots of campaign attention and those that might as well be in Canada is a side effect of the Electoral College, that perverse institution that sometimes threatens to send the losing candidate to the White House. In all but two states, electors' votes are apportioned on a winner-take-all basis; the arithmetic gave George W. Bush his victory in 2000, when he didn't win the popular vote, and nearly cost him his victory in 2004, when he did. As the New Yorker's Hendrick Hertzberg notes on his blog (www.startribune.com/a3851), the same risk applies this year.
Both problems -- the election of the popular-vote loser and the disenfranchisement of non-battleground states -- could be fixed through the National Popular Vote compact, an embryonic but promising effort to bring the Electoral College into line with the will of the voters. States that pass popular-vote bills agree that they will direct all of their electors to cast their ballots for the candidate who wins the popular vote. The compact will take effect once the member states control a majority of electoral votes. At that point, they will be able to guarantee that the candidate who wins the popular vote will also win the electoral vote and, with it, the White House.
So far, only Maryland has enacted a law. In Minnesota, Sen. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, plans to introduce a National Popular Vote bill this session. Other prominent supporters include former U.S. Sens. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., and Jake Garn, R-Utah, who serve on the national effort's advisory board.
It's appropriate that both parties should contribute to the effort. Under the current system, both parties suffer -- as does the country the Electoral College supposedly serves.