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OpinionOpEd

Coll: How Albany can bring a convention to New York

Long Beach residents voting at Lindell Elementary School

Long Beach residents voting at Lindell Elementary School in Long Beach on Nov. 5, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Republicans recently selected Cleveland to host their 2016 national convention. There's one reason for that: Ohio is a competitive state in presidential races.

If New York Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the 2016 Democratic convention in Brooklyn, he should call not only the Democratic National Committee in Washington, but the State Legislature in Albany as well.

The U.S. Constitution empowers state legislatures to decide how their states' electoral votes are distributed. In New York we allocate electoral votes in the same way as 47 other states and the District of Columbia: Beat your opponent by a single vote and win all of the electoral votes from the state.

This system is unfair, encourages people of both parties to stay home on Election Day because the outcome is so lopsided, and costs our state money locally and influence nationally.

Nebraska and Maine, however, have decided to distribute their electoral votes differently. In those states, two electoral votes are earned by the winner of the most statewide ballots and the remaining votes are distributed based on the results in each congressional district.

New York should adopt this system. With a single vote cast by the lawmakers in Albany, we would become more relevant in national politics.

In presidential races, a few "swing" states wield tremendous power in selecting our next chief executive. What makes them significant is that each candidate could potentially win the support of the state because the statistical difference between them is small.

Voters in New York have supported the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1988 by an average of more than 20 percent. So, in considering a convention for 2016, national policymakers and the parties understand they have little to gain by giving us support we don't make them earn.

If swing states are the key to getting attention in presidential elections and, by extension, national politics, our state should use a system that highlights its competitive areas.

Seven congressional districts in New York -- including three that cover nearly all of Nassau and Suffolk -- had a difference of less than 5 percent between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. If we adopt Maine and Nebraska's method, we would translate those districts into seven distinctly earned electoral votes. These "swing" districts would collectively match or exceed the electoral power of 24 other states that each have seven or fewer electoral votes.

The message communicated by state political leaders to the political parties is simple: If they want a city that is fun and filled with celebrity sightings, come to New York. If they want a city that could translate to winning competitive votes, go nearly anywhere else.

The last time New York hosted a presidential convention, the GOP came to the city and lost the state by 17 points. Four months after the GOP celebrated at Madison Square Garden in 2004, John Kerry carried 58 percent of the popular vote in our state. Although he didn't win the election that November, he took all of New York's 31 electoral votes.

Political lesson for the Democrats: Don't spend your time and money in a place that won't earn you any votes you could get without spending your time and money. Political lesson for the Republicans: Why bother? Political lesson for New Yorkers: Democrats have taken us for granted and Republicans have written us off.

James Coll, an adjunct professor of American and constitutional history at Nassau Community College, is the founder of ChangeNYS.org.

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