HARTFORD, CT — State Democratic lawmakers, surrounded by supporters, called on Connecticut to join the list of states to abandon the Electoral College to elect the president and replace it with a National Popular Vote.
There are several different bills proposed this year to have Connecticut do away with the Electoral College, including one proposed by Senate President Martin Looney.
Looney held a press conference Wednesday before the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Commission held a public hearing on his and other bills calling for Connecticut to go a National Popular Vote.
“I fully reject the notion that the citizens of America, in the year 2017, cannot be trusted to directly elect their president,” Looney said. “Instead, I believe that the direct election of the president by popular vote — that the winner of the presidency is the candidate who gets the most votes in the election — is now critical to the essence of our democracy.”
To date, the National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by a total of 11 states possessing 165 electoral votes, which represent 61 percent of the 270 electoral votes necessary to activate it. Connecticut’s neighboring states — New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island — have passed this bill.
The compact takes effect only when enough states sign on to guarantee that the national popular vote winner wins the presidency. This means that states with a combined total of 270 electoral votes — a majority of the Electoral College — must join the compact for it to take effect.
President Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton has renewed talk across the country, including Connecticut, of going to a winner-take-all National Popular Vote election.
More Americans voted for Clinton than any other losing presidential candidate in United States history.
The Democrat outpaced President Donald Trump by almost 2.9 million votes, with 65,844,954 (48.2 percent) to Trump’s 62,979,879 (46.1 percent), according to certified final election results.
Trump received 304 electoral votes — 34 more than needed to be elected — to Clinton’s 227. Seven “faithless” electors voted for other candidates, costing Trump two votes and Clinton four.
Clinton’s 2.1 percent margin ranks third among defeated candidates. Andrew Jackson won by more than 10 percent in 1824 but was denied the presidency, which went to John Quincy Adams. In 1876, Samuel Tilden received 3 percent more vote than Rutherford B. Hayes, who eventually won by 1 electoral vote.
In Connecticut, Clinton won the state’s seven Electoral College votes, easily beating Trump by a 54 to 40 percent total.
“We want to make sure when somebody’s vote is cast that they are confident that their vote will count,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said. “And I’m not sure after the election this year, that people have confidence that when they cast their vote that it is counted.”
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Commission, added: “Perhaps this election has raised the tenor of this issue but it has been an important issue for a lot of people not just in our state but in our country.”
The Electoral College “was designed some people say to give small states power that they didn’t have,” Winfield said. “It was designed in some way to give power to small states that own slaves, the reason why we had presidents that came from Virginia for a very long time.”
For Winfield, who is African-American,” this has been an issue that’s particularly important.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, released a statement Wednesday, saying he supports the initiative.
“Last November, our country saw one of the largest disparities in the popular vote since its founding,” Malloy said. “If we as a nation want to increase voter turnout, we need to only only combat attempts at voter suppression and gerrymandering, but we must also sign onto this compact creating a coalition of states that will award all of their electoral votes to the candidate chosen by the people.
Also supporting the initiative was Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
“For the second time in five presidential contests, the candidate for president who won the most votes lost the election. That doesn’t make sense to citizens who cast their ballots. It also does little to bolster faith in the process and encourage participation,” Merrill said.
Not everyone agrees that the National Popular Vote is the way for Connecticut to go.
State Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the Electoral College system empowers states, and “I think there is a value in states having a say.”
Sampson added that those pushing to dump the Electoral College system are “people who feel their votes didn’t count because their candidate didn’t win.”
In written testimony, Karen Banks, who lives in Newtown, said she was opposed to the National Popular Vote system.
“I used to think that a popular vote would be the more democratic way to elect our president until I better understood potential consequences, one of which would be that the country could be run by those states with the greatest population,” Banks wrote. “Elections are influenced by demographics, personal values, economy, jobs, topography, etc., and I do not want to see the few states with the greatest numbers of people controlling election results.”
Senate Republican President Len Fasano and Sen. Kevin Witkos are supporting legislation that supports the Electoral College.
“Without the Electoral College system, the votes from Connecticut residents, with our seven Electoral College votes, would be made inconsequential when a candidate could take the presidency by campaigning in only the most populous states or regions: California, Texas, Florida, and New York,” the senators’ testimony states. “The Electoral College aims to protect the voices of people in all states. Without it, larger states could easily overpower the voices of people throughout our country.”
A strong proponent of the National Popular Vote is Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, who said there’s a financial reason to get behind the movement.
“Studies have shown that swing states and battleground states get more federal dollars than other states. Connecticut is at a disadvantage there, and this bill would help level that playing field,” Albis said.
Support for the National Popular Vote came from others, besides the Democratic legislators.
“Every year, voters in all but a few battleground states don’t have a real say in picking our president” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut, said. “It’s time to make a change to the winner-take-all Electoral College system that led to this anti-democratic outcome so that voters in all 50 states have a choice in our presidential election.”
Lawmakers in the Connecticut House of Representatives approved legislation to have Connecticut become a National Popular Vote bill state in 2009, but the Senate did not act on it that year.
Those who haven’t supported the National Popular Vote initiative have expressed concern over scenarios such as the possibility of a huge disparity between Connecticut’s results and the national vote, putting tremendous pressure on state electors to break the compact.