The state Senate of Connecticut voted on Saturday, May 5 in favor of joining other states in awarding their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in presidential elections, The Hill reported on Sunday. The state would be the eleventh such jurisdiction to do so, in addition the District of Columbia, should Democratic governor Dannel Malloy sign the bill as expected.
The Guardian notes that “The bill passed the state Senate 21-14, with three Republicans joining 18 Democrats. It passed the House of Representatives 73-71.”
Connecticut would be the first state to join the group, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV), since New York entered the pact in 2014.
According to Business Insider:
Under the compact, participating states require their Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. In theory it would take effect once it involves states representing at least 270 electoral votes, the threshold to win the presidency. With the expected addition of Connecticut’s seven electoral votes, the group now has 172.
The move signals renewed interest in circumventing the Electoral College, the mechanism by which Republican Donald Trump defeated his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, despite having obtained nearly 3 million fewer total votes.
The Guardian points to one activist who directly attributes this invigoration to the results of the 2016 election:
Democratic State Rep. Matthew Lesser has been working on the issue in Connecticut since 2009 and believes Trump’s electoral victory gave the issue “some renewed momentum,” especially among activists who pushed for the legislation this session.
“My hope is, as other states take a look at it, that it won’t simply be an effort to re-litigate the 2016 election,” he said. Rather, he hopes states reflect on how two recent presidents, Trump and former Republican President George W. Bush in 2000, lost the popular vote but still won the election.
“That’s a real problem,” Lesser said. “That undercuts their ability to get things done.”
Meanwhile, opponents in the state contend that the bill will result in Connecticut’s influence in the Presidential election being lessened by the popular vote:
Republican state senator Michael McLachlan predicted that candidates would subsequently focus on large population centers, ignoring rural areas and small states like Connecticut.
“If you live in New York City, they may as well send limousines to get people to the polls,” said McLachlan, who also predicted “a legal train wreck” if the compact gets enough states to vote in unison for the popular vote winner.
However, supporters maintain that the bill makes voting fair for everyone. “Every person in the United States has the right to an equal voice in how our country is governed, and enacting a national popular vote ensures that right is upheld,” Democratic state senator Mae Flexer said, according to The Guardian.
Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy praised the bill’s passage on May 6, joining Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman in issuing written statements supporting the legislation:
“With the exception of the presidency, every elected office in the country, from city council, to United States senator, to governor, is awarded the candidate who receives the most votes,” Governor Malloy said. “The vote of every American citizen should count equally, yet under the current system, voters from sparsely populated states are awarded significantly more power than those from states like Connecticut. This is fundamentally unfair. ”
Should Malloy sign the bill, the twelve jurisdictions who have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would include – in addition to Connecticut – California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia, all of which were won by Clinton in 2016.
For more information about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, their website can be found here.
For a look at the bill itself, click here.
Why It Matters
It may be tempting to offhandedly dismiss this development, given the already blue nature of the states involved. However, 172 electoral votes, 64% of the total 270 needed to win the Presidency, is no laughing matter. Letting the popular vote determine the winner isn’t, either.
Large metro areas have trended leftwards in the last 30 years or so, a period in which a Republican has won the popular vote in a Presidential election only twice. In the most recent election, Clinton underperformed Barack Obama in 33 states and still came out on top against Trump by nearly 3 million votes.
But if we have learned anything in the last 10 years, it’s that politics is a very mercurial affair. 54% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents supported abolishing the Electoral College in 2011, compared to only 19% today. If the roles reverse at some point and a Democrat loses the popular vote and still wins the Presidency, would it be completely unheard of for Republican states to begin beating the NPV drum too?
In any case, if enough states enter the compact for it to achieve 270 electoral votes, it would go into effect and essentially nullify the Electoral College. That would mean these big cities would become central targets for national campaigns, while rural areas would be completely ignored, losing their voice in the democratic process.
This is why democracy was one of the things the Founders feared the most when establishing the United States government. Madison writes in Federalist No. 10:
Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual
What Madison is basically outlining here is the old and oft-misattributed saying that “democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.” Clearly, he felt majority rule to be insufficient for a country founded upon the premise of individual rights, since people clamoring for their own interests are disinclined to care about the interests of others. Hence the Founders’ adoption of a republican system of government instead.
In this particular case, were the NPV compact to take effect, densely populated areas such as New York City or San Francisco would find themselves lording over the affairs of smaller, culturally dissimilar, and economically distinct regions in completely different parts of the country.
The Founders sought to avoid this type of representation at all costs, and so should we.