INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- Should presidents be elected by the popular vote or by the Electoral College created by the Constitution?
The Electoral College gives each state a number of votes equivalent to its two senators plus its number of representatives elected to Congress.
West Virginia has five electoral votes; California has 55.
West Virginia State University hosted a panel on the topic on Wednesday afternoon.
Professor Gerald Beller, chairman of WVSU's Political Science Department and panel moderator, said that "700 proposals [for change] have been introduced into Congress over the past 200 years."
Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the public has often supported the change.
"But most political scientists want to keep the Electoral College," Beller said.
Panelists included Chris Marr, a lobbyist for National Popular Vote, a national group based in California that publishes "Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote" -- a detailed guide to reforming the Electoral College.
"In 2000, one presidential candidate, Al Gore, received the most popular votes, but George Bush won," Marr said.
This year's battleground states -- Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire and Nevada -- are getting far more attention from the Obama and Romney campaigns than states like West Virginia, where the voting outcome seems very predictable.
"There have been no rallies in West Virginia. Our votes are irrelevant," Marr said.
"In 2004 and 2008, candidates concentrated two-thirds of their visits and ad money in the post-convention campaign in just six closely divided 'battleground' states -- with 98 percent going to just 15 states. Two-thirds of the states were ignored," according to a statement distributed by National Popular Vote on Wednesday.
Legislation backed by the National Popular Vote organization encourages a pact between states approving reforms.
But other panelists were cautious about changing the presidential election system.
Professor Tera McCown, a political scientist at the University of Charleston, said, "We should be very cautious. The popular vote in only 11 states could determine the winner. The Electoral College makes all states have an impact.
"The Electoral College preserves the sanctity of diverse states. With a country as diverse as ours, we should proceed with caution."
Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, who also has been a surgeon for 25 years, said, "There is room for debate. But I supported the National Popular Vote Bill and sponsored it [in the West Virginia Legislature].
"In 48 states, the winner takes all. In Nebraska and Maine, electoral votes are allocated by congressional district. But this does not eliminate the Electoral College."
Foster cited three earlier presidential elections where candidates with the most electoral votes beat candidates winning the popular vote.