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Electoral College System Leaves Most States On Sidelines Of Presidential Elections


April 17, 2011

The vast majority of Americans have become mere spectators in our presidential elections; the election of our president literally comes down to 15 states and Connecticut is not one of them.

Let's compare two lists.

The first list: Bridgeport, Torrington, New London, Waterbury, Norwich, Bristol, Meriden, Middletown, Hartford, Stamford, New Haven, Greenwich, Manchester, Windham, Norwalk, New Britain and Danbury. This diverse list represents the destinations that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited on his town hall tour to discuss his proposed state budget.

During the gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Malloy also visited New Fairfield, Litchfield, Clinton, Wethersfield, Oxford, Beacon Falls, East Windsor, Sprague, Stonington, Granby and other small towns.

The second list: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado. This roll call of just six states representing barely one in six Americans accounted for two-thirds of all campaign visits made by John McCain and President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

The explanation for the disparity is fairly straightforward. In a popular vote election such as Connecticut holds for governor, every vote counts equally. Candidates have the incentive to compete for votes wherever they can find them. In the areas where they are weak, they will make an effort to not lose by much. Where they are strong, they will work to increase their turnout.

But the exact opposite happens in the national election for president. Because of the "winner take all" law most states have adopted for awarding their Electoral College votes (you need 270 to win), candidates have no incentive to campaign where they are either comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Because President Barack Obama knew he would win in Connecticut, and because John McCain knew he would lose, both men ignored us and concentrated on a handful of battleground states where the result could go either way.

And of course, the winner of the popular vote is not guaranteed a win something that happened as recently as 2000 (George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, the infamous "hanging chad" election.)

This session, State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and I have introduced legislation to address this issue. The National Popular Vote bill that is now before the General Assembly would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states. It would make every vote equal and every state relevant. The popular vote winner and the Electoral College vote winner would always be the same.

This proposal is based on Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which gives states the power to award their electoral votes in a manner of their choosing. Under our bill, Connecticut would join an interstate compact to award its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states. The agreement would only take effect once passed by states representing a majority of the Electoral College; so far, similar legislation has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington State and the District of Columbia, which together represent 74 electoral votes, or 27 percent of what's needed to activate the law.

A National Popular Vote would uphold the cherished, democratic principle of one person, one vote. Presidential candidates could no longer afford to ignore Connecticut or other states because every one of our votes would count toward the total they need to win, and the issues that matter to Connecticut would become part of the national dialogue.

So, what's at stake here? Does presidential attention really matter? You could ask those in Connecticut who fought for an anticipated $100 million federal grant to update and expand the University of Connecticut Health Center that ended up going to Ohio at the last moment. The distortion of national policy decisions in favor of swing states at the expense of everyone else is wrong.

When candidates campaign for president, everyone's vote should count. Passing the National Popular Vote bill in Connecticut will help achieve this goal.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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