Electoral College In The Crosshairs

Lucy Gellman Photo Hartford—New Havener Aaron Goode headed up here Wednesday for the fifth year in a row to urge lawmakers to neuter the Electoral College. This year something had changed.

A national election has given Goode’s quest for a “a national popular vote” new supporters—and detractors.

Goode and other popular-vote advocates — who seek to have presidential elections decided by who receives the most overall votes, rather than the most electoral votes from individual states — testified at a Capitol hearing on two bills that would have Connecticut join a “compact” of states that would agree to cast all their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote.

This year was different because 2016 saw a controversial, hard-fought presidential election in which one candidate (Hillary Clinton) won the popular vote, but the other (Donald Trump) won the Electoral College and became president. Since then more states have signed up for the compact. And a new sense of urgency, on both sides, was palpable at Wednesday’s hearing.

The hearing was before the Government Administration and Elections Committee. New Haven legislators — including State Sen. Gary Winfield and State Reps. Roland Lemar, and Robyn Porter— are among the sponsors of the bills.

The goal of the movement is to get enough states to reach the total of 270 electoral votes needed to determine election. So far 11 states representing 165 electoral votes (including Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island) have passed bills to join the compact once enough states agree.

Wednesday’s hearing revealed a partisan divide: Democrats generally backed the bill, while Republicans opposed it.  Republicans argued that basing a presidential election’s outcome on the popular vote—effectively erasing the Electoral College—is unconstitutional, and renders obsolete a system that protects smaller, sometimes overlooked voters and districts and a state’s voting pattern. Democrats argued that the Electoral College is an antiquated system, and Connecticut will have more to gain during election seasons if it transitions to a popular vote model.

Why Not Eliminate The College?

The difference in outlooks was apparent in an exchange between Jonathan Perloe, leader of National Popular Vote CT,  and Republican State Sen. Michael McLachlan, who has a proposed bill protecting the Electoral College.

“What if the national popular vote swings Republican in the next election?” McLachlan asked. “Do you anticipate still supporting the compact then?”

Perloe, who had spoken about his joy in watching a daughter vote for Clinton in Pennsylvania — where her vote counted more — responded that the first states to discuss the compact (Arizona, for example) had swung red in the last several elections.

“Right now, I actually feel sorry for Republicans in Connecticut who voted for Trump ... because right now their votes don’t count,” Perloe said.

“But if there is a desire for the National Popular Vote .... why aren’t you seeking to just eliminate the Electoral College?” McLachlan continued. “This neuters the Electoral College ... and changes it from its original setup.” (Advocates for the compact say amending the Constitution would be a better solution, but too difficult to achieve.)

“This is the only election where we have hung onto this thing established in the Constitution,” Perloe said. “There were 400 campaign events last year, and 94 percent of them took place in battleground states. We want people to campaign differently.”

McLachlan shook his head. “Trump spent three times [campaign events] here,” he said. “And he told his supporters that small states mattered.”

“Listen,” said Perloe. “The feeling isn’t that we’re trying to do an end-run around the Constitution.”

A Gift To Slave States

The movement for the National Popular Vote has existed since 2000, when Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar and two other authors published an article in Slate arguing for a “one person one vote” system to replace the Electoral College. In 2005, states began the process of discussing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would ultimately elect the president and vice-president by popular vote, instead of by the Electoral College. And in 2012—the same time that the Connecticut legislature started talking about it—it gained momentum as writer and pollster Nate Silver wrote about it for political website Five Thirty Eight.

The hearing followed a press conference where several New Haveners voiced their support for the bills. “The time has come to acknowledge that our system is an anachronism,” Sen. Looney said. “More than 100 years after the 17th Amendment and suffrage, the time has come” to embrace the popular vote, Looney handed the microphone off to Winfield, who spoke from a personal and legislative angle on the bills.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Sen. Winfield said. “This is an issue that has been important to the people in our state for a long time. The Electoral College was designed to give small states ... small states that owned slaves, power that they didn’t have. So for a person like me this has been an issue for a particularly long time because it has something to do with a part of my history that we have done a lot to move away from, and Connecticut is trying to move away from.”

“Let’s not think about this in terms of the election we just had, but dealing with some parts of our history that are important,” he added.

Goode, for his part, said the compact isn’t a partisan issue at all — though a Democrat, he supported it at a time when Silver was arguing that it would benefit Republicans over Democrats. It isn’t tied to a belief that Connecticut would benefit, either. It’s a core belief he holds that the power of one person’s vote should be equal across the country, he said.

“For me, it’s not about whether it benefits Democrats or Republicans—or the state of Connecticut!” he said. “I just want one person one vote. I don’t think people across the country should have to pay 100 percent of taxes to be counted for .7 percent of a vote.”

“The electoral college and the Three-Fifths Clause go hand in hand,” he added. “In its DNA, I think it has aspects of institutional racism. So what bothers me when people say ‘it’s sour grapes’ from Democrats is that this has been going on for five years! This isn’t some Johnny Come Lately thing where we’re just pissed off about Trump. It’s so clearly about one person, one vote. And we’ve been doing it since 2005.”

Following is a status report on bills of particular interest to New Haven before the state legislature this session:

The 2017 Agenda

Bill #StatusSummarySponsors
SB11/ HB5539Committee DeniedWould legalize, tax recreational use of marijuana.Candelaria
Dillon
Lemar
Walker
Porter
et al
SB 17Committee ApprovedWould make certain undocumented immigrant students (DREAMers) eligible for state college financial aid.Looney
HB 5434Committee ApprovedWould have CT join with other states to elect the President based on popular, rather than Electoral College, vote.Winfield,
Porter
Albis
Elliott
D'Agostino
et al.
HB 5458, HB 6058Committee ApprovedWould establish electronic tolls on state highways.Genga
HB 5575/HB 7126Passed SenateWould regulate companies such as Uber and Lyft.Scanlon
HB 5589Passed HouseWould expand disclosure requirements for contributions to campaign funds.Dillon
Lemar
D'Agostino
Elliott
et al.
HB 5591Passed HouseWould require equal pay for employees doing comparable work.Dillon
Walker
Lemar
Albis
D'Agostino
Elliott
et al.
HB 5703Committee DeniedWould have CT enter into an agreement with other states to limit "poaching" of each other's businesses.Lemar
HJ 13/HJr 95Passed HouseWould amend the state constitution to permit early voting.Lemar
HJ 16In CommiteeWould amend the state constitution to permit absentee voting for all voters.Lemar
SB 1/HB 6212Committee ApprovedWould require employers to provide paid family and medical leave for their employees.Looney
SB 2Committee ApprovedWould make the education funding formula more equitable.Duff
SB 8Committee DeniedWould allow municipalities to adopt a 0.5% sales tax.Looney
SB 10/HB 5743Passed SenateWould strengthen hate crime laws.Winfield
SB 13/HB 6208/HB 6456Committee ApprovedWould increase the minimum wage.Looney
Winfield
et al.
Albis
Candelaria
D'Agostino
Elliott
Lemar
Paolillo
Porter
Walker
SB 137Committee DeniedWould expand birth-to-three and provide universal pre-school, among other things.Gerratana
SJ 5/HJ 1Passed HouseWould amend the state constitution to create a "lock-box" for transportation funding.Duff
HB 5588Committee DeniedWould limit certain bond allocations.Dillon
Lemar
Albis
Walker
Elliott
et al.
HB 5912HB 6127Committee DeniedWould establish a 1-cent/ounce tax on sugared beverages.Lemar
Elliott
et al.
HB 6554Committee DeniedWould tax carried interest as ordinary income.Porter
Albis
Lemar
Elliott
Winfield
Candelaria
Dillon
D'Agostino
et al.
HB 5831Committee DeniedWould provide bonding for transitional housing for NH female ex- offenders.Porter
Candelaria
Lemar
Winfield
Looney
Paolillo
SB 631Committee DeniedWould provide bonding to make structural improvements to the Shubert Theatre.Winfield
Looney
Walker
Porter
Lemar
Candelaria
Paolillo
HB 6863Committee DeniedWould authorize bonds for renovating the Barbell Club as a youth/ community center.Canelaria
Porter
Paolillo
Lemar
Winfield
SB 649Committee ApprovedWould allow local building officials to impose fines for building w/o a permit.Looney
Winfield
Walker
Candelaria
Lemar
Porter
Paolillo
Et al.
SB 590/591Committee DeniedWould limit police ccoperation w/Immigration and Customs Enforcement (590); establish an immigrant's bill of rightsWinfield
SB 20Committee DeniedWould require affordability to be considered in reviewing proposed health insurance rate hikes.Looney
HB 6352Committee ApprovedWould establish a deposit system for car tires.Ritter
Gresko
McCrory
HB 6901Committee DeniedWould impose a surtax on large employers that pay an average wage less than $15/hour.Elliott
HB 7278Passed SenateWould convey various parcels to New Haven, among other things.Gov't Administration and Elections

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 22, 2017  10:42pm

“The electoral college and the Three-Fifths Clause go hand in hand,” he added.

How true.This is where my name came from.In fact African Americans as individuals are considered three-fifths of a person. Again Snake-Oil and Three Card Monte being sold.The electoral college is here to stay as long as we maintain the US Constitution. The Best Electoral Reform is Proportional Representation.

How & Why Other Countries have Ended the 2-Party System.

https://youtu.be/MiEt6703L1o

posted by: Noteworthy on February 22, 2017  10:52pm

Sore Loser and Damn the Constitution Notes:

1. This is an effort to do an end run around the Constitution. If you want to change the Constitution, there is a process to amend it. Follow the rules. Don’t make new ones.

2. This effort will neuter small states. Huge popular vote totals can be run up in NY and CA; in the urban core where Democrats hold big majorities. This is about cooking the votes in those areas and using those centers to control the outcome - like it is currently done in CT. Demos run up the vote totals in New Haven, the corrupt DTC controls the candidates, controls the votes and picks the winner at the expense of all the small towns and cities across the whole state.

3. Note to Sen. Gary Winfield - The electoral college may or may not have its roots in small states and the issue of slavery. But for the love of god, give it up. What happened 250 years ago does not haunt us today and bringing race and slavery into this discussion is intellectually dishonest.

4. Face it - Trump won. Lots of people hate it. Mostly Democrats. Get over it. Pick a better candidate. Get in touch with real people and quit navel gazing and pretending this is about one man, one vote. But if you want to really have one man one vote, then do away with closed primaries too. Let me guess - not one democrat will stand for that to happen.

posted by: Booksmarts on February 22, 2017  11:54pm

This is a sensible proposal that everyone who cares about equal representation—republicans or democrats—should favor. Regardless of the origins of the electoral college, it is impossible to justify why certain citizens’ votes should count more than others simply because they live in a state with low population. States don’t have rights—people do.

Ironically, Noteworthy’s point 2 highlights this: “this effort will neuter small states”: Yes, small states will have a small impact on the presidential election *because they are small*. “Huge popular vote totals can be run up in NY and CA”—yes, because that is where many citizens live and those people should count as much as people in North Dakota. Perhaps some people prefer to partially disenfranchise voters in large states because they happen to be democrats, but this cannot justified on grounds of fairness.

I agree we cannot predict how the election would have ended up if the electoral college didn’t exist. Maybe it wouldn’t even have been Trump vs. Clinton. But regardless, I believe a 1-person-1-vote election would have more oriented towards the interests of a larger number of voters, both in “sure” red (Texas) and “sure” blue (New York) states.

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 23, 2017  4:00am

One Vote per Congressional District, 2 Votes per State…..

You don’t throw out the whole system because you don’t like the outcome of a few of the last elections, you get rid of the part of the electoral system that is bad, which is the all or nothing apportioning of electors…..

If you want your vote to count, fight for it on the district level, and have that 1 vote counted!!!!! 
That makes National Elections very local, rather than disenfranchising to the electorate.

I can’t think of a more proportionately proper solution…..while staying within the founder’s intentions of a balance between citizen and state powers.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 23, 2017  8:51am

I Was Paying Attention in Civics Notes:

1. It’s not an end run. Nothing in the Constitution says that Electors need to be chosen by a popular vote total in an individual state. In fact, it’s explicit that the state legislatures have the authority to decide how electors are chosen:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

. So should the legislature in Connecticut, or any other state, decide to allocate them based on the national popular vote that seems to be 100% consistent with the Constitution.

2. So what? States don’t vote; people do. This is the same nonsense thinking that attributes a mandate to a candidate who won lots of ‘counties’, when the smallest county has fewer than 100 people and lots of others are mostly empty space. But if we want small units that aren’t individual voters to count, why stop at states? Why not count just count households? You can have candidates competing in battleground living rooms. The only logical and equitable way to apportion votes so that all citizens have an equal voice is to give them to individuals.

3. The electoral system is inextricably and explicitly rooted in slavery and to pretend that that is somehow ambiguous is ignorance at best—or willful intellectual dishonesty. It’s also ridiculous to dismiss the legacy of slavery as something that “happened 250 years ago” and “does not haunt us today”. The reasons should be obvious to any thinking person. To state a couple: the legal system of chattel slavery ended just over 150 years ago and the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited segregation and employment discrimination wasn’t passed until 1964. And again, any thinking person knows that (1/2)

4.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 23, 2017  8:56am

(2/2) . . . any thinking person knows that structural, systemic racism didn’t roll over and die in 1964 with a stroke of Lyndon Johnson’s pen.

4. Yes, Trump won, in part, with the likely help of the Russians and in part by appealing to the basest, most vulgar and irrational fears and hopes of a large enough minority of the electorate to game the electoral system. And I’m sure, for other reasons as well which it will fall to history to untangle. Most of us are ‘over it’ and focused on the next steps in the ongoing effort to reject the president’s dark, fearful, and angry vision and move our country forward.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 23, 2017  9:03am

Noteworthy, the current system currently overweighs small states, since every state has two Senators regardless of population. But the smallest states are almost evenly divided between the parties. The Dakotas and Idaho are among the reddest states, but R.I., Delaware, and Hawaii are among the bluest.

While I support the bill, NPV would have at least one negative consequence. Because Connecticut is reliably Democratic in presidential races, we have to endure relatively few political ads on TV. If swing states become less important, the broadcast budget will be reallocated. Connecticut residents will see an increase in political ads, something that few people would look forward to.

posted by: ALICEMARY on February 23, 2017  11:49am

The founding fathers were smart. The electoral college is there for a specific reason so that overwhelming populations like the cities dont determine the presidency. It needs to be LEFT ALONE.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 23, 2017  12:20pm

I love the idea that huge numbers of actual human votes being counted where lots of humans live is cooking the books. Who is really the sore loser here?

posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 23, 2017  12:32pm

Most democracies begin with a philosophy of “one person, one vote”!

In America, it might make sense to get back to that basic principle.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 23, 2017  1:33pm

“The electoral college is there for a specific reason so that overwhelming populations like the cities dont determine the presidency. It needs to be LEFT ALONE.”

To quote the president, “WRONG!”

Southern state politicians knew that with their smaller voting populations (white men over 21 years old) their share of the representation in Congress and ability to help decide the presidency would be diminished.

The so-called three-fifths compromise allowed slave-holding states to count each enslaved person as, literally, 3/5 of a person for the purposes of apportioning representation in Congress. The result was that enslaved people helped build support for their oppressors in a political system in which they, themselves, could not participate and from which they could not seek any relief. It’s almost elegant in its perversity.

Then we get to the electoral system, which gave each state a number of votes equal to its representation in the legislature (the number of representatives, again, allocated by population including slaves + the two senators each state had regardless of population) and can again see that slave-holding states were the beneficiaries of . . . well, we might call it an early form of ‘affirmative action’.

Little has changed. Electoral college votes are still allocated based on this distorted formula and the former slave-holding states are still feverishly trying to disenfranchise minority voters to depress turnout, which nearly always favors the political right.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact the legacy of slavery has on modern American political and economic structures.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 23, 2017  4:18pm

@ ALICEMARY—

Because it makes much more sense to let a minority of country bumpkins to rule our country?

What do you have against city folk? Why should their votes count less than Wyoming or Alaska voters?

Do you understand how ridiculous “the greatest Democray on Earth” looks to foreigners, when the winner of the election is the candidate with fewer votes?

posted by: Noteworthy on February 24, 2017  7:51am

Get Real Notes:

1. Not an end run around the Constitution?
“(Advocates for the compact say amending the Constitution would be a better solution, but too difficult to achieve.)” From above.

2. Before the state participates in neutering the Electoral College, it should be put to a vote, counting one man, one vote of all of us. This is a huge shift that intentionally makes it easier to put Democrats in the White House. The new urgency is a reflection of the left’s obsession with popular vs. electoral wins because of Trump’s win. We deserve our voices to be heard.

3. @Kurtz - Your view of why Trump won is precisely why he did but not for the reasons you outlined. Your description repeats all of Demo Party elites talking points and all the shrill depictions of the left since he did. Nothing in your description acknowledges the cooked Demo primary; Hillary’s lack luster campaign, her corruption and self dealing; the email scandal, the CGI scandal all before you get to her message issues.

4. If you want to neuter the Electoral College - neuter the parties too. Make them speak to all of us because all of us should be able to vote in the primaries. In New Haven, the corrupt DTC makes a mockery out of the election and forecloses any results except what the DTC wants.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 24, 2017  2:33pm

Noteworthy,

I’m not sure that our numbered lists align anymore but I suppose it doesn’t matter.

1. And ‘end run’ is an attempt to avoid confronting a problem directly. In this case, The ‘problem’ is not really with the Constitution, which leaves states to their own devices in determining how to allocate electors. It’s with the winner-take-all rules that most states now use that has twice since 2000 subverted the will of the majority of actual American voters. You know, “we the people.” In 2000 and again last November, yes—the popular vote would have put a Democrat in the White House but Nate Silver, at least, seems to think that there have been occasions in that time frame that would have helped Republicans. I haven’t read his take on it but believe that his expertise in data analysis is greater than mine.

2.I appreciate the irony of what you wrote here.

3. I appreciate the irony of this, too. You can still carry on about the shadowy Clinton email scandal (remember, all of those investigations and inquiries ultimately found no evidence of criminal wrong-doing) and ignore the open-and-shut Flynn and Conway scandals (just to mention two). Any problems with the Clinton Global Initiative don’t begin to rival those of Donald Trump’s various international business entanglements, conflicts of interests and past shady business practices including taking his casino public and bilking the investors before running it into bankruptcy. Or Trump University. Or his confessed sexual battery.

4. I am cautiously in favor of open primaries, especially for local races. I agree that in a largely one-party town like New Haven, where the primary is basically the election, it’s a problem that a significant number of people cannot participate meaningfully. I concede that there might be drawbacks I have not considered. Look at that; the country is coming together.

posted by: Jonathan.Perloe on February 25, 2017  2:13am

On the one hand, this is one of the few news accounts of the public hearing that covered the “public” part of the hearing - most of the other coverage just talked about what legislators said. On the other hand, the reporting is sloppy & inaccurate.

To fill in the missing/misquoted parts of the story: In response to Sen. McLachlan’s question, will I still be in favor of the NPV Compact if the popular vote swings to Republican candidate next election, yes. I suspect he will too if the winner-take-all system puts the Democratic candidate in the White House.

The notion that this is sour grapes by Democrats is nice story for those who want to ignore the fact that Clinton received more votes than Trump. The NPV Compact has been around for a decade, has passed on a bipartisan basis is most of the legislatures that have joined the Compact, has been passed by quite a few Republican controlled chambers and has been voted out of GAE with GOP votes the 4x it’s been voted out of Committee. And was explicitly endorsed by Trump, Ben Carson & Newt Gingrich.

While Sen. McLachlan tried repeatedly to put words in my mouth, the Compact does not neuter the Electoral College and is not an end run on Constitution. He chooses to ignore the language of the Constitution as others here have pointed out. This deliberate avoidance of the facts is wearing thin.

The article incorrectly states that NPV advocates would rather amend the Constitution. Not true, because the Compact achieves outcome of making every vote matter equally within the framework of the Constitution and electoral voting. As I pointed out to Sen. McLachlan more than once, winner-take-all is the reason two losers have been elected to White House in past 5 elections, not the EC.

As for “getting over slavery” tell that to the family in Stamford who had “nigger” spray painted on their garage. Sadly, Trump is bringing out the worst of America and GOP is too feckless to do anything about it.

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 27, 2017  4:47am

Jonathan Perloe,

I have no idea what the racial epithets have to do with the apportioning of electors, but I am once again surprised at NHI for showcasing race-baiters using race baiting to make some strange point about reforming our Democratic Process.