You don't mean a thing if you ain't in a swing (state)

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He probably voted for himself, but in Illinois he didnt need to
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck in the national popular vote. And so tomorrow, across this great nation, there will be one thing left for their supporters to do: call everyone they know in Cleveland or Milwaukee and lobby for their candidate.

Oh, and vote. But unless you're in a swing state, that part doesn't matter so much.

For the same reason, Chicago-area Obama volunteers did which of these activities over the weekend, as on other recent weekends?

a: Rang doorbells in their neighborhoods

b: Called their neighbors

c: Boarded buses to Iowa and Wisconsin and rang doorbells there, or made calls to Ohio

If you voted for "c," you picked the winner. Under our present system of electing presidents, such carpetbagging makes tactical sense.

But count me as a supporter of the movement to elect our president by national popular vote. When popular opinion is as close as it is across the country, it seems wrong that in 40 states, including ours, voters know that their vote will be either superfluous or futile. It will be superfluous or futile because it's winner-take-all in each state, and the election isn't close in those states.

You can imagine what that combination does to turnout.

In Illinois, a recent poll gives Obama 57 percent and Romney 38 percent. Out of a likely vote of five million, Obama will win the state by nearly a million—for which he'll get 20 electoral votes, just as he would if he took Illinois by a single vote.

Besides depressing turnout, the present system also has a corrosive impact on campaigning, with the candidates focusing their attention on a fragment of the country. "In the current election, the battleground has grown almost comically small," Adam Liptak noted in yesterday's New York Times. "Just three states—Florida, Ohio and Virginia—have accounted for almost two-thirds of the recent campaign appearances by the presidential candidates and their running mates."

Over the weekend, the candidates made stops in a couple of other swing states, including Iowa, where they almost tripped over each other in Dubuque.

The candidates have visited Chicago occasionally, seeking checks. But have you seen either candidate here seeking votes? No offense to Dubuque, but something's wrong when a town of 58,000 matters more to the candidates than Chicago.

The impact of this swing-state focus extends beyond the election, as Liptak observed—and it doesn't benefit the nonswingers: "There is also reason to think that the voices of people who live in swing states are listened to more attentively and that their concerns are more likely to influence policy and spending."

The National Popular Vote bill is an effort to remedy this. States that pass it agree to give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally. They agree to do this as soon as states with more than half the electoral vote nationally have enacted the bill. The practice of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the winner of that state isn't specified in the Constitution, so there's no need for an amendment.

The bill isn't hopelessly idealistic. It has broad bipartisan support among elected officials, and its backers also include Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the New York Times, and the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg. Eight states and the District of Columbia have already enacted it. The eight states and the district together have 132 electoral votes, almost half of the 270 needed for the bill to take effect.

Illinois is one of the eight enactors. From 1952 through 1988, Illinois had voted for the Republican presidential candidate in eight elections out of ten. But the state has gone for the Democrat in the last five elections, and none of those races was close. Illinois legislators realized the political disadvantages of being a nonswinger, and enacted National Popular Vote in 2008.

Former Delaware governor Pete Du Pont, a Republican, warned in the Wall Street Journal in 2006 that under National Popular Vote, "largely urban counties would become the focus of presidential campaigns."

I know I'm biased, living in a large urban county, but I'm all for that. Metro areas are where most Americans live, and they're home to the people who need the most government help. Urban areas deserve more presidential attention than they get under the current election method. And in the race for the White House, it'd be better to have a swinging nation than just a few swinging states.

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