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North country representatives divided on national popular vote

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A bill that would tie New York to a movement to base presidential elections on the popular vote passed the state Senate and Assembly on Tuesday. It has drawn both support and criticism from north country representatives.

The bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, could make New York state the 11th state or district in the country to adopt the measure if it is signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, both voted for the measure.

Neither Mrs. Ritchie nor Mr. Blankenbush could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she voted against the bill for three primary reasons: a concern about the balance of state’s rights, a fear of unintended consequences arising from the enactment of the popular vote initiative and her disagreement with the notion that the electoral system is broken.

“I have some concerns about trying to override the Constitution on an electoral matter,” Mrs. Russell said. “The Constitution has been amended many times for voting, but none of them have gone so far as to get rid of the electoral college.”

She said she was concerned that moving to an electoral system based entirely on the popular vote could open up every presidential election to challenges that then would have to be resolved through the courts — a process Mrs. Russell said has proven to be time-consuming and controversial.

Mrs. Russell said that the idea that the electoral college system is broken is not founded on history.

She added that, while many people point to recent presidential elections in which the winner of the popular vote did not win the election, those results were determined by the court system and were not a result of an inherent flaw in the electoral college.

In his comments to the state Senate before voting on the bill, Sen. Griffo voiced frustration at the fact that presidential candidates often focus their efforts on so-called “battleground states,” often at the expense of other areas in the country, including New York state.

“Elections are the foundation of our democracy,” Sen. Griffo said. “Potential presidential candidates concentrate more than two-thirds of their advertising budgets and two-thirds of their campaign stops in just five states. Almost 100 percent of their message is seen in approximately 16 battleground states. New York has 19.5 million people, but we’re routinely ignored by campaigns.”

Mrs. Russell countered that point in a telephone interview: “I don’t think getting rid of the electoral college would change that dynamic at all.”

According to nationalpopularvote.com, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have all enacted the popular vote law.

Combined, these states and district have 136 electoral votes, which is 50.4 percent of the 270 electoral votes that are required to elect the president and for the law to take effect.

With New York’s 29 electoral votes, the number of total electoral votes for states that have passed the popular vote law would increase to 165, and the initiative would have 61 percent of the votes needed to go into effect.

Support for the popular vote law does not necessarily conform to party affiliation.

The bill was sponsored by a Republican — Sen. Griffo — in the Senate and a Democrat — Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx — in the Assembly.

The bill was supported by Republicans 27-2 and by Democrats 30-2 in the Senate and passed in the Assembly by a 100-40 ratio, with 78 Democrats and 22 Republicans voting in favor of the bill, according to nationalpopularvote.com.

The bill has passed the Senate twice before, once when the chamber was controlled by Democrats and another time when it was dominated by Republicans.

Last year, the state Conservative Party issued a memo supporting the national popular vote.

The bill has now moved to the governor’s desk for his approval.

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