The legislature is again considering an agreement to cast its Electoral College votes for whichever presidential candidate receives the most popular votes nationally. This year’s bill comes after an election cycle in which Connecticut was all but ignored by the candidates.
The National Popular Vote interstate compact is not a new concept to the Connecticut General Assembly. The concept is proposed on a nearly annual basis. If passed, Connecticut would join eight other states and the District of Columbia in the agreement.
The compact would become effective if enough states joined so that 270 electoral votes, or enough votes to win the election, went to the winner of the popular vote.
At a public hearing Monday in the Government Administration and Elections Committee, officials debated the agreement’s potential impact on the attention a state like Connecticut receives from presidential candidates. Increasingly, elections have been focused on handful of key swing states.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, a West Hartford Democrat and longtime advocate of National Popular Vote, said Connecticut was virtually ignored in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. He said he had constituents who couldn’t even get lawn signs from the campaigns.
“The campaigns hadn’t even bothered to get lawn signs out to Connecticut, so the expenditures by the Republican and Democratic parties in the last few cycles was essentially zero,” he said.
Fleischmann said that when campaigns focus their resources and energies on a few battleground states, administrations tend to focus their efforts and resources on those states as well.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, said presidential candidates currently only visit Connecticut for fundraising purposes.
“I dare say that engaging a few select people to open their checkbooks is not the same as engaging the general public on the issues facing our nation,” she said.
Merrill said it was difficult to speculate on how campaigns would change their tactics if elections were decided by popular vote. But she said candidates would need to campaign in “51 states” rather than just swing states.
“It would force all candidates to have to run everywhere, in a much different way than they do today,” she said.
Opponents of the measure like Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, argued that the agreement serves to “sidestep” the U.S. Constitution by bypassing the Electoral College. He said the college was created as a vehicle to protect the rights of smaller states like Connecticut, and he hadn’t heard a compelling argument to convince him otherwise.
McLachlan said he didn’t believe Connecticut would play a larger role in presidential elections if it cast its votes for the popular winner.
“If you look at running a general election campaign based on population — where the vote is — Connecticut is a loser,” he said, adding that New York would be the state in the region that would get the most attention based on its concentrated population.
“The New York TV market is going to have a bonanza . . . all you’re doing is shifting one way of focusing efforts to another way of focusing efforts but now it’s all in large population centers,” he said.
Despite some debate and lobbying efforts last year in favor of the National Popular Vote, the Government Administration and Elections Committee never raised a bill. In 2011, it was voted out of committee but never raised in the House of Representatives.
According Barry Fadem, President of the National Popular Vote, the electoral college has “permitted candidates to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in 4 of our 57 elections — 1 in 14 times.”
The issue has been up for discussion in recent years because of the 2000 election, which saw the Bush-Cheney campaign win the White House with a 271-266 electoral vote advantage despite polling 540,520 fewer popular votes than Gore-Lieberman.