Connecticut House Narrowly Passes Bill Supporting Popular-Vote Election Of U.S. President
May 13, 2009
In the closest vote of the year, the state House of Representatives voted Tuesday night to allow Connecticut and other states to join an interstate compact to elect the president by the national popular vote.
The bill originally failed in the historic Hall of the House as the tally showed 72 in favor and 73 against. But in a longtime tradition, legislators were allowed to change their votes up until the House clerk formally announced the tally.
The vote was a nail-biter to the end, and it passed only after four veteran Democrats switched their votes from negative to affirmative: Deputy House Speakers Robert Godfrey of Danbury and Emil "Buddy" Altobello of Meriden, and Reps. Peggy Sayers of Windsor Locks and Peter Tercyak of New Britain.
The concept behind the bill arose from the 2000 election in which Democrat Al Gore won the national popular vote, but Republican George W. Bush won the most votes in the Electoral College system.
Currently, only five states have agreed to join the compact: New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii, Illinois and Washington state. Connecticut would be the sixth.
House Republicans sharply criticized the bill, saying that it would have backfired on Connecticut in 2004. In that year, Connecticut voted overwhelmingly for Democrat John Kerry in the presidential election. But if the bill had been in effect at that time, Connecticut's electoral college voters would have been forced to cast ballots for Bush that year because he won the national popular vote.
"How undemocratic is that?" asked Rep. David K. Labriola of Naugatuck, who spoke strongly against the measure. "That is plainly undemocratic. ... Our system has served us well. There is no reason to do this."
Rep. John W. Hetherington, a New Canaan Republican, said that the bill raises federal constitutional questions and requires the compact to gain the consent of the U.S. Congress.
But Rep. James Spallone, an Essex Democrat who led the floor debate for the measure, said that Hetherington's amendment to require the consent of Congress was unnecessary. That amendment failed, 105-37, in a House chamber where the Democrats hold the majority, 114-37.
Spallone rejected other criticisms, saying that the bill does not circumvent the federal Constitution. Instead, he said, it "respects state sovereignty, respects federalism ... respects the Constitution of the United States."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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