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Electoral College effort lags

Initiative to alter state's winner-take-all system needs more signatures.

December 01, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — As deadlines came and went, backers of an initiative that could affect the 2008 presidential election continued struggling Friday to gather enough signatures to place the measure before voters.

Organizers had set this week as a deadline for wrapping up their petition drive, but said they had not raised the roughly $2 million needed to pay petition circulators. Secretary of State Debra Bowen had recommended a deadline of Nov. 29.

Campaign manager Dave Gilliard said that agents would work through the weekend to obtain the 434,000 valid signatures required to put the Electoral College initiative on next June's ballot and that he expected to submit the names by midweek.

Gilliard was less than certain that he would reach his goal of 700,000 names, a number allowing leeway for signatures that might be disqualified.

"We won't know until they're collected," he said.

The proposed initiative would alter California's winner-take-all system of awarding its 55 electoral votes. Instead, electors would be allocated based on which candidate captured majorities in individual congressional districts.

That could help the eventual Republican presidential nominee in California. With Republicans holding 19 congressional seats, the GOP nominee would presumably win at least that many districts, giving the candidate 19 electoral votes, almost as many as Ohio has.

In 2004, President Bush, a Republican, won majorities in 22 congressional districts, despite losing to Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry in California 44.4% to 55.4%.

If California altered its Election Code to count electoral votes by congressional district, the state would join just two others using that method: Maine and Nebraska, which combined have nine electoral votes.

Gilliard said Friday that he was unsure whether the campaign would reach its fund-raising goal.

Tapping some Republican stalwarts, proponents have raised more than $1 million; the actual figure won't become public for several days. But Gilliard said $200,000 to $250,000 more was needed to pay circulators for the signatures they have gathered.

"Until it is the bank, I don't want to make any pronouncements," he said.

Initiative organizers often miss deadlines and still qualify their measures, but pushing the target date is risky. Once signatures are submitted, local elections authorities must verify them and send them to the secretary of state, who certifies the measure for the ballot.

The initiative has attracted interest among presidential campaigns because of its national implications.

Democratic National Party Chairman Howard Dean has said that Democrats could not win the White House without winning all California's 55 electoral votes. This state accounts for more than 10% of the 538 electoral votes nationally, by far the biggest bloc of any state.

Backers have said that if they failed to qualify the Electoral College measure for June, they would try to place it on the November 2008 ballot. It is unclear what that would mean for that month's presidential election.

The Electoral College initiative has had a troubled past. Its original campaign team, including its author, Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, abandoned the measure in October.

Hiltachk and his team had been unable to raise sufficient money. Hiltachk also became angry when the one donation he received -- $175,000 from Wall Street mogul Paul E. Singer -- took a circuitous route through a Missouri attorney and a hitherto unknown corporation. That route hid, at least for a time, the true source of the contribution.

The measure itself is relatively simple, taking fewer than four pages. Supporters portray it as a way to make California's elections fair.

The idea of altering California's system has been discussed within Republican circles for years.

It became so serious in the 2004 campaign that California Republicans approached the Republican National Committee about it.

But the GOP and President Bush's political team concluded that Bush could win the election without the added boost that such a move would bring.

dan.morain@latimes.com

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