State legislators said it is unlikely that Connecticut will sign onto a system in which it assigns its Electoral College votes based on the national popular vote in time for the 2012 presidential election.
The National Popular Vote Compact, which requires its signatories to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections, was not proposed by lawmakers in Hartford before last week’s deadline set by the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Election Committee. Despite efforts by members of the National Popular Vote, a nonprofit advocacy organization, state legislators said the bill was not introduced because they prioritized other legislation, such as education reform, but supporters of the bill said they are hopeful that it may still pass through nontraditional channels.
“There is some interest in [the National Popular Vote bill], although I don’t know if there’s enough to take action on it this year,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who represents New Haven. “It is a short [legislative] session.”
Without the committee’s support, Looney said it is more difficult, though not impossible, for the bill to advance any further. National Popular Vote regional director Ryan O’Donnell said the bill is unlikely to pass given the short length — three months — of the current legislative session, though he added that there are “a number” of ways for legislation to go forward and that he did not dismiss its chances.
The National Popular Vote bill — which 74 percent of state residents support, according to a 2009 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling — was cleared by the Government Administration and Election Committee last year by a 10 to 5 margin, but was never brought to the House floor for vote. Looney attributed the General Assembly’s failure to raise the bill to the body’s acknowledgement that it would generate a “very time-consuming debate” and take time away from other pressing issues.
Given the Electoral College’s structure, in order to become the system by which presidents are elected, the National Popular Vote Compact would need enough states to join such that it represents a majority of the nation’s electoral votes — more than 270. Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have joined the compact, representing a total of 132 electoral votes.
Though Looney said support for the bill is “growing” in the state legislature, he added that members will continue to consider how the bill might affect other states’ voting outcomes. Some state Democratic lawmakers, he said, have expressed concern about the fact that Connecticut’s electoral votes in the 2004 national election would have gone to George W. Bush ’68 if Connecticut and enough other states had passed the National Popular Vote bill before the election.
Still, deciding elections by the national popular vote would ensure that the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes across the country is victorious, O’Donnell said. He added that this has failed to happen in four presidential elections, including the 2000 election between Al Gore and Bush.
The enactment of the National Popular Vote, he added, would force presidential candidates to campaign more widely, rather than focusing on a few important battleground states as they do now.
“It’s going to be obvious [during the 2012 elections] that Connecticut and two-thirds of our states are going to be ignored once again,” O’Donnell said. “If you want to get involved in Connecticut, or get involved as a Connecticut resident, you should get in your car and drive to your nearest swing state.”
He said one of the Compact’s goals is to make each state equally important to administrations and campaigns. He added that around 200 million Americans live in states that are virtually ignored by presidential candidates because they are considered noncompetitive.
But David Mayhew, a Sterling Professor of Political Science whose work focuses on U.S. elections, said he does not believe establishing national popular vote system would significantly alter the behavior of national politicians toward Connecticut. Instead, he said, they would visit “media-heavy” Boston and New York City.
Mayhew added that he does not think changing the current Electoral College system would be beneficial. Overall, he said, the current system does not tilt the political playing field to either major party’s advantage, and changing to a national popular vote system could “end up in a mess” because of different voting laws in each state. He said that state legislatures could potentially renege on their commitments to the Compact in order to affect national elections depending on which political party held the majority.
O’Donnell said the Compact has seen national momentum in recent years, with California and Vermont both passing the bill last year. But Mayhew said he does not expect that enough states will sign on to reach the 270 Electoral College vote minimum, given that the Compact tends to be more popular with Democrats than with Republicans.
“[The national popular vote] has the support of very Democratic states … It makes it hard to make it past 13 states if the political situation stays as it is,” Mayhew said. “It would take some election event for this project to gather steam.”
Currently, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are members of the National Popular Vote Compact.