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Let's Pass Vote Pact

Popular Vote State could benefit from national election plan

The Hartford Courant

March 07, 2011

In presidential elections, we have two kinds of states not blue and red, but battleground and bystander. The battleground states get all the money and attention. As a bystander state, it would be in Connecticut's interest to change the system. We will have that opportunity.

The reason for the battleground/bystander dichotomy is the "winner-take-all" rule in effect in all states but Maine and Nebraska. Under this system, a candidate who gets the majority of votes in a state gets all of the state's electoral votes.

So if the polls show candidate Barack Obama headed for a big win in Connecticut as they did in 2008, when he won by tallying more than 60 percent of the vote the campaign here is essentially over. He gets all the electoral votes. There's no real point in him trying to win 65 or 70 percent of the popular vote, because it doesn't matter. By the same token, there is no point to his opponent trying to lose by fewer votes, because he still loses all the electoral votes.

What's Wrong With Electoral System

What happens is that most of the attention goes to the states, usually about 15 or so, where the polls show the race is close. The implications of this system are troubling, especially for a spectator state such as Connecticut.

First, it threatens the democratic principle of majority rule. Four times in our nation's history, most recently in 2000, a president has won the office while losing the popular vote. It almost happened in a number of other elections, most recently in 2004, when a small shift in Ohio would have given the election to John Kerry, despite President George W. Bush's 3.5 million vote lead in the popular tally.

Also, it means the money, excitement and presidential visits take place in less than a third of the states. In 2008, 98 percent of the money in the general election (Mr. Obama did visit Hartford during the primary) was spent in 15 states. It means that many volunteers from bystander states travel to battleground states instead of working at home.

Perhaps more important, the campaigns are much more attuned to voter interests in battleground states. In other words, the wants and desires of Florida and Ohio voters are much more likely to resonate with the candidates than the wishes of a bystanding Nutmegger. Perhaps it was a coincidence that Ohio received the $100 million medical school grant that Connecticut coveted, or that Florida got a $1.2 billion high-speed rail grant. Or perhaps not.

How To Change It Constitutionally

In any event, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and many other states are getting the short end of the stick. There is a simple and legal way to change the system that is allowed by the Constitution a compact between the states called National Popular Vote.

All of the states that join the compact agree to give their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For example, if Connecticut joined the compact and, say, George W. Bush received the most votes across the country, as happened in 2004, we would agree to give him all of our electoral votes, even if a majority of state voters didn't vote for him. The result would be a democratic election. A million votes in Connecticut would be as valuable as a million votes in Ohio or Florida. We would be in on the action.

The compact idea is gaining momentum. A popular vote bill has been passed by six states and the District of Columbia, who together have 76 electoral votes. The compact only kicks in when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes 270 of 538, enough to elect a president. The bill was passed last year by the Connecticut House of Representatives, but didn't make it to the Senate calendar.

Indirect elections are a vestige of the country's past. A national office ought to be decided by the national vote. The bill is being reintroduced in the General Assembly this year. Let's pass it and get in the game.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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