Like Florida in 2000, some are predicting that the closely contested 2012 presidential election could result in one candidate winning the national popular vote and the other winning the Electoral College.

Currently, each state allocates its electoral votes based on who wins in that state. President Barack Obama gets the most votes in Hawaii, he gets the state’s four electoral votes.

But eight states and the District of Columbia have opted for a different system, casting their lot for a National Popular Vote bill.

Under that system, which isn’t active because not enough states have opted for it, Hawaii’s electoral votes — and those of every other state — would go to whoever wins the most votes nationally.

The states include the home states of Obama (Illinois) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (Massachusetts), the largest state (California) — and Hawaii.

That amounts to 132 electoral votes, or nearly half of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Senate Bill 2898 passed the 2008 Hawaii Legislature with little opposition and is now law.

But it almost didn’t happen. SB 2898 was vetoed by then Gov. Linda Lingle, who is today running for the U.S. Senate.

Small Is Big

It is the Electoral College that officially elects the president and vice president every four years. Under the system, each state and the District of Columbia cast ballots — 538 total — to select electors pledged to candidates.

In most states, the electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state regardless of vote percentages. Only Maine and Nebraska use proportional representation.

It is because of the Electoral College that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have spent so much of their campaigns in nine “swing states” like Ohio and Virginia.

Obama did not need to campaign in California because he’s a lock to win it, just as Romney could skip Texas, the second-largest state.

But the Electoral College also means small states like Iowa and New Hampshire have outsized influence in presidential elections.

Close Override Vote

SB 2898 was introduced by Sen. Clayton Hee, a Democrat.

Testimony in support of the measure came from Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, part of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Maryland.

“Hawaii does not receive the attention it deserves, as it is nearly completely ignored by both parties,” Richie said in his testimony. “Because of the current state-by-state system where only swing states matter, candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or address the important concerns of the Hawaiian people.”

But in her veto message, Lingle noted that Hawaii’s four electoral votes would have gone to a presidential candidate Hawaii voters didn’t want — Richard Nixon rather than Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Ronald Reagan rather than Jimmy Carter in 1980, George H.W. Bush rather than Michael Dukakis in 1988 and George W. Bush rather than John Kerry in 2004.

Lingle wrote, “Given the potential under the interstate compact that Hawaii’s electoral votes would be awarded in a manner that does not reflect the will of the majority of the voters in Hawaii, this bill would disenfranchise Hawaii’s voters and is not in the best interest of the citizens of the State of Hawaii.”

Lingle, a Republican, was overridden by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, which requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber. But it was close.

In the 25-member Senate, three Republicans — including current incumbent Sam Slom and Fred Hemmings, who is running this year to get his old job back — voted against the override. So did Democrat Clarence Nishihara, who was re-elected during the primary.

In the 51-member House, three Democrats voted against the override — Della Au Belatti, Joey Manahan and Angus McKelvey. Belatti and McKelvey are running for re-election this year, while Manahan was elected to the Honolulu City Council in the primary.

Twelve other House members were excused from the override vote — Democrats Lyla Berg, Roland Sagum and Joey Betram, now out of office; Bob Nakasone, who is deceased; and Rida Cabanilla, who is up for re-election — and Republicans Corinne Ching (up for re-election), Colleen Meyer (running for office again), Kymberly Pine (running for Honolulu City Council), Lynn Finnegan (out of office), Barbara Marumoto (retiring this year) and Gene Ward and Cynthia Thielen, who were re-elected in the primary.

In Hawaii legislative races — as with nearly every free election in the world — leaders are selected by the popular vote, and not an electoral college system. In three U.S. presidential elections, the candidate that took the popular vote but lost the Electoral College lost the election.

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