How not to lose another election
A shorter version of this piece appeared as an op-ed in the Hartford Courant. Although written with Connecticut in mind, the message is relevant to people in other states as well.
Two days after Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election to Donald Trump an online petition took off; it now has more than four million signatures. Recognizing that Clinton won the popular vote by more than 750,000 ballots, it calls on the Electoral College to cast “faithless” votes to elect her President. I signed the petition out of anger, fear and despair of electing the most unqualified and dangerous person to lead our nation in modern history, perhaps ever.
I soon realized that altering the outcome of the Electoral College’s vote is a fool’s errand. As Vox commentator Andrew Prokop wrote, “electors overturning Trump would certainly cause a constitutional crisis, because there is no world in which the Republican Party would accept Clinton taking the presidency in this way.” Judging by the violence favored by some of Trump’s supporters, neither would they.
But I’m unwilling to stand idly by to see the second President this century take office without winning the popular vote. Connecticut should join the National Popular Vote (NPV) Interstate Compact. Under the Compact, all of a state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of electoral votes, the 270 required to elect a President.
The NPV Interstate Compact is a straightforward means of enabling the electorate to express its will without a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College. In two of the last five elections and nearly one of every 11 elections since 1789 the Electoral College has awarded the presidency to the loser of the popular vote. The Electoral College is an anachronism that has no place in our democracy. It was conceived by the founders to appease southern slave-owning states and for an anti-democratic fear of the uneducated hoi polloi. In The Federalist Papers Alexander Hamilton was plainspoken about the need to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
The means by which we elect our President should not have its origins in racist, anti-populist motives. The apportionment of state electors in numbers corresponding to each state’s representation in Congress is an affront to the principle of one person, one vote. The votes of citizens in less populous states have far more weight than do votes coming from more populated states. Wyoming has a population of roughly one-half million and three electoral votes. If Connecticut’s citizens had the same voting power, it would have 18 electoral votes, nearly three times as many as it now has.
The 18th century voting mechanism distorts the political process by encouraging candidates to focus on just a handful of swing states that ultimately decide who will become President. The consequence on voting participation is substantial: last week in 14 states where the margin was close, 65 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, a 16 percent higher turnout than in the rest of the nation.
There is nothing nefarious about the Compact. The U.S. Constitution states, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” In her 2013 testimony to the Government Administration and Elections Committee, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said, “this plan is consistent with the Constitution.” Senate bill SB-432 was voted favorably out of the GAE Committee in March 2013; it passed the House in 2009. The bill has widespread public support. A 2009 poll in Connecticut showed 74 percent in favor of direct elections, including two-thirds of Republicans.
The bill has been passed by all three of Connecticut’s neighbors (MA, NY and RI) along with another eight states together representing 165 electoral votes, more than half the number needed for activation. The bill enjoys bipartisan support. In 2014 Newt Gringrich wrote, “America would be better served with a presidential election process that treated citizens across the country equally. The National Popular Vote bill accomplishes this.” Fantastically, President-elect Trump also agrees, saying in his recent 60 Minutes interview, “I would rather see it where you went with simple votes.”
Some CT legislators argue the approach would disenfranchise voters because CT electors would cast votes for the winner of the national popular vote, not the state’s winner. The argument lacks merit. The bill does just the opposite by giving every individual’s vote equal weight, regardless of where they live. Not since 1988 have votes cast in CT for the Republican presidential nominee made a whit of difference to the national outcome. That’s not an enfranchised electorate.
Secretary Merrill, noting that most presidential candidates come to CT simply for fundraising said, “engaging a few select people to open their checkbooks is not the same as engaging the general public about the issues facing our nation.” Let’s elect the President as we do every other elected official in the country, by the winner of the popular vote. Contact your state legislators and ask them to support the NPV Interstate Compact.
Join my Facebook community to see how you can help, or find one for your state. Also, extensive resources are available at nationalpopularvote.com.
Jonathan Perloe is Vice Chair, Communications for the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee. This was co-signed by 54 members of Pantsuit Nation CT from 36 towns across Connecticut.