Conn. may change electoral college laws

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Photo by Alon Harish.

Connecticut could be the next to join a growing group of states in an effort to establish a national popular vote system for presidential elections.

A group of state legislators in Hartford are advancing a National Popular Vote bill that would have Connecticut join six other states and the District of Columbia in requiring its electors to vote for whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. Sponsored by State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann (D-West Hartford), the bill passed 10–5 in the General Administration and Elections Committee on Friday. While the roughly party-line vote in committee suggests the bill may fare well in the General Assembly, its fate is still very much in doubt.

Currently, Connecticut — like most other states — awards all of its electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes in the state.

“This is a pro-democracy bill,” Fleischmann told the Hartford Courant Friday. “This is a bill that makes sure the person who gets the most votes on election day is elected president of the United States.”

By joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, Connecticut would be joining a growing movement nationwide that promotes popular vote elections without formally scrapping the Electoral College. The plan would not require a constitutional amendment, since the Constitution gives states the power to choose how to appoint presidential electors.

If passed, the legislation would take effect only if the combined Electoral College votes of the compact reaches 270 of 538, the majority required to secure the presidency.

The Connecticut bill now heads to the floor of the state House of Representatives. In 2009, a similar bill narrowly passed the House, but died before reaching the Senate.

Supporters argue that the Electoral College sidelines Connecticut voters because of the state’s strong tendency to vote for Democrats.

“Presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind,” Ryan O’Donnell, regional director of National Popular Vote, a non-profit organization advocating similar bills nationwide, told the committee. “This makes two-thirds of the states mere spectators.”

Some of the proposal’s origins were at Yale. In a Dec. 2001 FindLaw column, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 and his brother, UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar LAW ’88, argued for a plan similar to the compact now being proposed.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has since come to be known by many as the “Amar Plan.”

The Amar brothers argued that such a compact would be a more politically viable route to the establishment of direct presidential election than a constitutional amendment. If the 11 most populous states in the union joined the compact, the states would have a combined 271 electoral votes, enough to make other elections “sideshows,” the Amar brothers wrote. Amar referred comment to the 2001 column.

Currently, six states — Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington — and the District of Columbia, have passed state laws entering the compact, totaling 74 electoral votes. Similar legislation is pending in four other states: California, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

According to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, about 74 percent of Connecticut voters support presidential election by popular vote.

“I think this approach has a chance to achieve reform where other efforts have failed before,” said State Rep. Roland Lemar, a former New Haven alderman.

The compact would rectify a “fundamental inequity in the Constitution,” and restore the ideal of one person, one vote, said Lemar, who represents parts of New Haven and Hamden.

Still, the bill is not without skeptics.

The bill’s most vocal opponent is State Rep. John Hetherington ’60 LAW ’63 (R-New Canaan), who worried during the committee’s Friday meeting that the compact envisioned in the bill would have unintended consequences. Because all electoral votes would go to the candidate with the most votes, with or without a majority, the bill diminishes the importance of getting a majority of votes.

“We’re going to change the law that currently gives electors a duty to vote in accordance with the will of the people of Connecticut and instead we’re going to devise some system to manipulate the electors so that they can be directed to vote for someone who gets a bare plurality nationally,” said Hetherington, according to the Hartford Courant. “How is that good either for Connecticut or for the United States of America?”

In a statement on his website released two weeks ago, Hetherington alluded to a common criticism of Electoral College reformers: that they are motivated by former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 loss to George W. Bush ’68 despite winning the popular vote. The problems in Fleischmann’s proposal are not worth “[avenging] the outcome of some past election,” Hetherington said in his statement.

Maine has developed a workable alternative to the “winner-takes-all” system, Hetherington said. In Maine, one elector is chosen by each congressional district, with the remaining two electoral votes going to the overall state winner.

Connecticut has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since President George H. W. Bush ’48, who grew up in Connecticut, won in 1988.

Comments

  • Undergrad

    What happened to half of Michigan?

  • LutherWeeks

    What often appears simple is not. The Compact would cobble the national popular vote onto a flawed system designed for the Electoral College, with no means to change that system. It would result in unanticipated, yet predictable consequences that are overlooked and glossed over by advocates for the national popular vote

    There is no official national popular vote number compiled in time, such that it could be used to officially and accurately determine the winner in any close election.
    Even if there were such a number, it would aggravate the flaws in the system. The Electoral College limits the risk and the damage to a few swing states in each election. With a national popular vote, errors, voter suppression, and fraud in all states would count against the national totals.
    There is no national recount available for close elections, to establish an accurate number. Only in some individual states, if close numbers happened to occur in those states, would there be even a fraction of a national recount.

    With the Compact there is every reason to believe that any close election would be decided by partisan action of the Congress or the Supreme Court – the same Court that ruled in Gore v. Bush, that not having a uniform recount law in Florida was grounds to stop the recount to avoid harm to the apparent winner. Citizens and candidates can be expected to bring court challenges of Governors and Secretaries of State for relying on and providing inaccurate results in awarding Electoral College votes. As in Gore v. Bush, since the founding, close election controversies have all been decided in seemingly partisan decisions by Congress, special commissions, or the Supreme Court.

  • mvymvy

    Under the current system of electing the President, no state requires that a presidential candidate receive anything more than the most popular votes in order to receive all of the state’s electoral votes.

    No legislative bill has been introduced in any state legislature in recent decades (among the more than 100,000 bills that are introduced in every two-year period by the nation’s 7,300 state legislators) proposing to change the existing universal practice of the states to award electoral votes to the candidate who receives a plurality (as opposed to absolute majority) of the votes (statewide or district-wide). There is no evidence of any public sentiment in favor of imposing such a requirement.

    Since 1824 there have been 16 presidential elections in which a candidate was elected or reelected without gaining a majority of the popular vote. – including Lincoln (1860), Wilson (1912, and 1916), Truman (1948), Kennedy (1960), Nixon (1968), and Clinton (1992 and 1996).

  • mvymvy

    Now, policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    Since World War II, a shift of a handful of votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

  • mvymvy

    Dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system. What the country needs is a national popular vote to make every person’s vote equally important to presidential campaigns.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would less be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

    The district approach would not cause presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state. Under the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all laws(whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race is competitive in only 3 of the state’s 53 districts. Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Under the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, two-thirds of the states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, seven-eighths of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.

  • mvymvy

    Current federal law (Title 3, chapter 1, section 6 of the United States Code) requires the states to report the November popular vote numbers (the “canvas”) in what is called a “Certificate of Ascertainment.” They list the electors and the number of votes cast for each. The Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes reported in the Certificates of Ascertainment. You can see the Certificates of Ascertainment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia containing the official count of the popular vote at the NARA web site at http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/2008/certificates-of-ascertainment.html
    The process is explained at http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/state_responsibilities.html

    The U.S. Constitution, existing federal statutes, and independent state statutes guarantee “finality” in presidential elections long before the inauguration day in January.

    The U.S. Constitution (Article II, section 1, clause 4) provides:
    “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”[Spelling as per original]

    The common nationwide date for meeting of the Electoral College has been set by federal law as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

    Under both the current system and the National Popular Vote approach, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the common nationwide date for the meeting of the Electoral College. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the states are expected to make their “final determination” six days before the Electoral College meets.

  • mvymvy

    The incentives for fraud and mischief are magnified under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system. Now, one vote can determine the plurality of the vote in each state, and up to 55 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. National Popular Vote limits the benefits to be gained by fraud and mischief. Under National Popular Vote, votes are equal in all states, and counted among the total pool of 130 million votes in the country.

    Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all methods.

    The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

    The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

    A nationwide recount would not happen. We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election and recount. The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires.

    * Given that there is a recount only once in about 160 statewide elections, and given there is a presidential election once every four years, one would expect a recount about once in 640 years under the National Popular Vote approach. The actual probability of a close national election would be even less than that because recounts are less likely with larger pools of votes.

    ● The average change in the margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 296 votes in a 10-year study of 2,884 elections.

    ● Only about a quarter of all recounts change the outcome.

    ● No recount would have been warranted in any of the nation’s 56 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.