After some rigorous debate, Connecticut’s National Popular Vote bill on Friday cleared the General Administrations and Elections Committee and is set to move on to the floor.
The National Popular Vote bill, if adopted, would add Connecticut to a growing list of states that have entered into an agreement to cast their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.
The bill cleared the committee with five dissenting votes. During the meeting Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, was the most vocal in his opposition.
Hetherington expressed concerns about how the measure would be implemented and enforced. The compact Connecticut would enter into would be an agreement among states not an agreement among electors, he said, leaving him with concerns about “unfaithful electors.”
But he also said that term wasn’t accurate in his mind. If an elector chose to vote as the residents of Connecticut voted rather than the nation, “that would be a faithful elector in my mind,” he said.
But Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the bill’s sponsor said the scenario was an unlikely one. Even under current statutes an elector could theoretically cast an unfaithful vote, he said. But throughout history, of the more than 24,000 electoral votes cast in presidential elections only 11 electors have entered unfaithful votes, he said.
“It takes a certain level of wackiness, a certain level of instability to go against that,” he said of unfaithful electors.
Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, agreed with Fleishmann. Meyer said he once served as an elector and there isn’t as much leeway as Hetherington seemed to think.
“I’ve been a presidential elector and you don’t have discretion anymore. It’s kind of an automated thing,” he said.
Hetherington also offered alternative systems to the winner-take-all method currently used. Both Maine and Nebraska have adopted systems where each congressional district votes for its own elector who would then cast his or her vote in accordance with the district vote.
Fleishmann described that method as a complete 180 degree turn in the wrong direction. He said that only increases the opportunity for error because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as wholes. The larger the vote, the less opportunity there is for an especially close one, he said.
Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, argued that the Electoral College system actually protects small states like Connecticut. He and Hetherington characterized the National Popular Vote movement as a lingering resentment from the 2000 election.
“It’s an attempt to avenge an election they’re still upset about,” he said, offering a bit of advice “just move on.”
National Popular Vote Regional Director Ryan O’Donnell said that under the Electoral College system, no one is hurt more than small states. That’s because candidates rarely spend time or money in small, non-swing states like Connecticut. But he was also careful to point out the measure leaves the Electoral College intact. It only affects how electors within that institution cast their votes, he said.
Currently seven states have joined the compact but O’Donnell said there is now compact legislation in the other 43 states.
After votes were counted and the committee adjourned, Fleishmann and Hetherington continued their heated discussion standing in the committee room.
But Meyer said of the seven years he’s served in the General Assembly, this year’s debate on the perennial issue was the highest quality one he’s seen. He said it was difficult to speculate on how the measure will fare in the House and the Senate. He has not been keeping tabs on behind the scenes chatter, he said, because he wasn’t sure the measure would even come up for a vote in committee.
But if the committee’s votes, which fell mostly along party lines, are any indication it may have a shot at reaching the governor’s desk this year, he said.