Government and Politics
February 14, 2018
Connecticut Pushes to Elect the President by Popular Vote
This is the inaugural issue of Making Connecticut Votes Count. We’ll be presenting news and analysis focused on a non-partisan reform movement that is sweeping the country. Its objective is to have the people’s vote choose the President of the United States.
Most Americans believe the person who wins the plurality in the national popular-vote count should become President. A poll in Florida recently showed that two-third of Floridians hold this view.
However, research shows that in one out of three close elections, the votes in the Electoral College will award the Presidency to the runner-up, denying the office to the winner of the popular vote. To make sure that popular vote winner always becomes President, 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to change the method of electing the President to popular vote through a mechanism called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. States that approve the Compact will choose electors from the party whose nominee won the popular vote. The Compact goes into effect when states representing 270 electoral votes approve it. In that event, those states’ electors would constitute a majority and would cause the popular vote winner to become the choice of the Electoral College.
So far, states with 165 electors have passed the compact. Connecticut, with 8 electoral votes, could become the next state to approve the Compact. It would mean that states with only 97 electors are needed to make sure people can choose the President.
Survey Results, With Surprises, Coming Soon
A foundation has done a poll of 1,202 Connecticut voters that can be found at www.MEVCFoundation.org. It shows broad support for “changing the rules so that the candidate who wins the most votes becomes the president.” Legislators will certainly want to look at results in their own areas. What about Connecticut voters who chose Donald Trump, loser of the popular vote nationally in 2016 but winner in the Electoral College? Check it out. You may be surprised.
The Legislation and Its Backers
The Connecticut General Assembly convened on Feb. 7 and will adjourn May 9. The joint House-Senate Committee on Government Administration & Elections, with nine Democrats and eight Republicans, is the venue for the introduction of the Compact.
The CT General Assembly Democratic Caucus announced last week that the Compact is one of its 2018 legislative priorities. Both Senate President Martin Looney and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz called attention to the National Popular Vote in their remarks announcing the Democratic Values Agenda on Feb. 6. The Agenda says that Connecticut Democrats "reject the notion that the citizens of the United States, in the year 2018, cannot be trusted to directly elect their president," and instead “believe in the direct election of the president by popular vote—that the winner of the presidency should be the candidate who gets the most votes in the election.”
The day before in New Haven, Yale Law School Democrats are holding an event discussing the path toward having the American democracy choose the President. Jonathan Bell will present the case for Making Every Vote Count, a group dedicated to changing the way America elects its presidents. Bell grew up in New Haven, and practices law in New York. Jonathan Perloe and Steven Winter, leaders of the National Popular Vote effort in Connecticut, will discuss where the Compact stands. The event is scheduled for Feb. 15, from 12:10 to 1:30 p.m. in Room 120 of the Law School.
But, as the survey will show, don’t get the idea that Democrats are the only supporters of the popular vote….
‘Conservative Voice’ Lauds Popular Vote for President
When Tim Morris, a 40-year journalism veteran, was named a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the popular nola.com site last year, the newspaper called him a “New Conservative Voice for New Orleans.” Morris, who says he has a “Christian worldview and a journalist’s sense of skepticism,” devoted his Feb. 9 column to making the case for a popular vote determining the President. The piece was headlined, “The Electoral College is broken. It’s time to let the people decide.”
Morris pointed out that Sam Wang, professor of molecular biology, “says computer modeling predicts that in a close election -- decided by 3 percentage points or less -- there is 1 in 3 chance that the popular vote winner will lose the Electoral College count.”
Under the current system, Morris notes, presidential election campaigns focus on only a handful of states:
A review by www.nationalpopularvote.com found that 68 percent of the general election campaign events occurred in just six states, including 71 events in Florida, 55 in North Carolina, 54 in Pennsylvania and 48 in Ohio. Louisiana did not get a single post-convention campaign event visit from either Trump or Clinton in 2016. And electoral vote-rich Texas and California only got one visit each.
And, Morris writes, states not targeted by the candidates have lower turnouts – which means less voter engagement for positions down the ballot as well. Also, notes Morris:
It's bad enough that the so-called swing states get all of the campaign visits, they also are positioned to benefit from policy decisions as the candidates and media focus on narrow interest groups. While there are only about 76,000 Americans working in the coal industry, a search of Google news in 2016 shows 4,000 articles on the topic, one article for every 20 coal miners.
Morris concludes, “This isn't a partisan issue, it's a fairness issue. Electing the president by popular vote is letting the people speak.”
New Orleans and Other Events
While Morris notes that Louisiana is not scheduled to take up Compact legislation, his focus on the popular-vote issue was no coincidence. New Orleans was site earlier this month of the Unrig the System Summit, which drew a crowd of more than 1,000, including some of America’s best minds – from left, right, and center – to discuss how to fix the nation’s broken political system.
Evidence of just how broken abounds.
For example, trust in government, according to the Pew Research Center, is at historic lows. Only 18% of those surveyed last year say they can trust the government to do the right thing “just about always” (3%) or “most of the time” (15%). That compares with more than 70% in the 1960s and 60% as recently as 2001. In another poll, Pew found that only 46% of Americans are “satisfied with the way democracy is working in our country.” That compares with 70% of Canadians, 73% of Germans, and 69% of Indonesians.
Supporters of a popular vote for president played a key role in the Unrig the Vote conference. Maggie Brennan, counsel to MEVC Foundation, participated in a kickoff panel, titled, “A Presidential Election for Everyone: Fixing the Electoral College,” with Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard Law School professor and technology-policy expert, and Pat Rosenstiel, a leading Republican strategist with the group National Popular Vote.
Brennan was joined at the Summit by Jennifer Holmes, a civil rights lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who just joined the MEVC Foundation board, as well as Matthew Shapanka, a Covington & Burling attorney involved in the popular-vote effort. The three met later with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who heads the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Holmes explained the Compact and MEVC’s education work to more than 2,000 viewers during a live-streamed interview with the Independent Voter Network.
On Jan. 26, another MEVC director, former California State Supreme Court Judge Lisa Foster spoke at an American Voter Project panel hosted by Columbia Law School’s Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. She was joined by Lessig and Kamala, Kelkar, a PBS digital associate producer.
Asked whether the proposed remedy of the Compact goes against the Founders’ intentions to create a buffer between the people and the president, Judge Foster responded, “[That] you can’t trust the people to pick the president is a principle that has proven itself to be obsolete and one that is inherently undemocratic.”
Making Connecticut Votes Count is a division of Making Every Vote Count, a national c(4) advocacy organization. It is separate from MEVC Foundation, a c(3) non-profit dedicated to informing and educating the public about popular opinion and preferences relating to democratic voting for the President.
For more information, visit www.makingCTvotescount.com