HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 1:43 p.m.) After 90 minutes the House Thursday decided to table debate on a controversial bill that could change how the results of presidential contests are counted.
Instead of using the electoral college as the deciding factor, Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said it would move Connecticut toward a system where the winner of the national popular vote would become president.
“Our residents are often shortchanged because we are not a battleground state,” Lemar said. “This would ensure every vote counts in every state across the country.”
He said joining the National Popular Vote compact empowers Connecticut residents because their votes would count the same as a vote in Columbus, Ohio.
The bill the House debated would allow Connecticut to join the National Popular Vote compact, which 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.
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.
Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the only reason the bill is before the House is because of politics, not policy.
Republican lawmakers argued it would give Connecticut less of a voice over the electoral process.
Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said it means a majority of Connecticut voters could vote for one presidential candidate, but a state like Texas with a larger population could go largely for another candidate. He said the Electoral College is an equalizer for small states like Connecticut.
But proponents of the bill, who were disappointed they didn’t get more time to gather the necessary votes, said the National Popular Vote adheres to the principle that every vote counts and matters.
“Everybody’s vote should matter and the person who gets the most votes should win,” Jonathan Perloe, an organizer with Equalize the Vote CT, said.
It’s happened five times since the Civil War that presidential candidates who won the popular vote have not won the electoral vote.
Most recently, Republican President Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 2.9 million votes to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But he won the 270 electoral college votes necessary to win the White House.
Clinton won Connecticut’s 7 electoral votes, as she won 54.57 percent of Connecticut’s vote to Trump’s 40.93 percent. Minor party candidates picked up the remaining votes.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said at the beginning of the session that he wouldn’t allow for a debate to move forward on the National Popular Vote out of respect for the results of the November 2016 election. Trump won the election with 304 Electoral College votes.
“My view of the president,” Aresimowicz said. “As far as credibility goes he’s damaging his own credibility, it’s not like we have to pile on here in the state of Connecticut.”
All joking aside, Aresimowicz said he’s heard from his constituents that they want the issue debated.
“I’m saying let’s at least hear it out and have the discussion,” Aresimowicz said Thursday morning during a press conference in his office before the House debated the bill.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he expects the vote to be close and it’s unclear what will happen.
“We’ve asked members to think on their own about what they want to do,” Ritter said. “We think there’s a lot of merit sometimes in having things debated even if you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
Aresimowicz said there are members who have told them they won’t commit to vote one way or another before hearing the debate.
It’s rare that a bill would be raised for what’s likely to be hours of debate if there’s no guarantee it will be able to pass. The bill was tabled and could be raised in the future for a vote.
The Connecticut House approved legislation to join the National Popular Vote compact in 2009, but that year the Senate failed to take up the bill.
In 2014, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced his support for the legislation, but it wasn’t raised for a vote in either chamber that year.
Jack Kramer contributed to this report.