Why the National Popular Vote (H.B. 5434) has to be passed now

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The grassroots citizens’ campaign to have the Connecticut General Assembly join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has steadily picked up supporters, to a degree unprecedented in the five previous attempts the bill has been introduced to the legislature. Despite a legislative setback in the House this week, the bill has come farther than anytime since 2009.

There are now a record-breaking 63 co-sponsors of H.B. 5434, the bill to have Connecticut award its electors to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states in a manner fully consistent with the Constitution.  Among the co-sponsors are Senate President Martin Looney, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter and Deputy Speaker Bob Godfrey. Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill have publicly expressed their support.

On the day of the public hearing in February, attended by more than 100 advocates, the governor addressed the fundamental problem of the current winner-take-all method of voting electors, writing, “An equal vote for every American citizen, regardless of which state they happen to live in, is the fairest and most democratic way to go.”

Lt. Gov. Wyman added, “Residents must trust that they have a voice in choosing our elected leaders – it’s the foundation of our democracy.” At a press conference that day, Sen. Looney remarked, “I fully reject the notion that the citizens of America, in the year 2017, cannot be trusted to directly elect their president.”

At a National Popular Vote CT rally in New Haven, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal spoke passionately about the need to let the will of the majority prevail when electing the president, just as it does in all other elections for higher office. Sen. Chris Murphy has been on the record supporting the compact since December.

Over the past two months, advocates have engaged legislators from Greenwich all the way to the Northeast Corner, from Litchfield County to New London County, to address their concerns one by one. We’ve explained why the compact is not an end run on the Constitution, why small states won’t be overwhelmed by large states, why New York City and Los Angeles don’t have the votes to determine the outcome, how this isn’t a Democratic response to Hillary’s loss, why Connecticut voters won’t be disenfranchised if the state votes one way but the national popular vote goes the other way, and why interstate compacts are enforceable under the Constitution.

We’ve explained that the founding fathers didn’t create the Electoral College to protect small states and that winner-take-all didn’t start until the 1820s.

Our grassroots outreach is working — legislators have listened, considered and decided that making every vote matter is a smart way to move towards the ideal of one person, one vote. But it’s only worked with Democrats. Our advocates can’t convince Republicans that the national popular vote isn’t a partisan reaction to Trump’s victory, even though the Compact has been endorsed by nonpartisan good government organizations including the League of Women Voters, Fair Vote, Common Cause and LegitAction, and has been adopted by 10 states and the District of Columbia starting in 2007.

Nonetheless, on the strength of the citizens’ grassroots campaign for the National Popular Vote, the Speaker of the House called the bill for a vote on May 18. But due to absent lawmakers (some unavoidable) and a handful of Democratic holdouts, the bill was pulled before a vote was taken.

The holdouts are using the same discredited arguments as the Republicans. As one of our advocates testified at the public hearing, “they keep creating problems where there are none.”

Let’s be clear; what this isolated group is saying is that the overwhelming majority of their caucus, the governor, the lt. governor, the secretary of the state, the ex-attorney general with Yale law degree now U.S. senator, our other U.S. senator, and many hundreds of lawmakers in other states got it wrong. The holdouts believe they know more than the framers of the compact who include Mark Grueksin, called by Campaigns & Elections magazine “Colorado’s best election lawyer, bar none;” Robert Richie, executive director for 25 years of Fair Vote, dedicated to advancing fair elections; and Harvard-trained attorney Tom Campbell who served as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White and professor of law at Stanford University for nearly 20 years.

It just doesn’t make sense. It’s time for the Democratic leadership to come down on the side of constituents who are simply asking for the common-sense approach used in virtually every other election: making every vote matter and awarding the office to the candidate who gets the most votes. Passing H.B. 5434 would reassure voters in Connecticut, and across the nation, that our American democracy is stronger than the forces arrayed against it; strong enough to move us closer to ideal of elections where each person has one vote that matters as much as everyone else’s.

Connecticut’s bill, one of many introduced in state legislatures this year, is widely considered to have the best chance of passing. Joining the compact this year would give the national popular vote momentum going into next year and demonstrate that Connecticut is a leader in election reform, just as it is a leader on so many other issues of social justice.

There are 83 signatures in favor of this bill from 45 towns in Connecticut, as well as the following organizations with collectively more than 20,000 supporters:

  • Action Together Connecticut
  • CT Women for Progress
  • Democracy Awakens
  • Indivisible CT
  • Women’s March on Washington CT Chapter
  • League of Women Voters of Connecticut
  • Daily Kos
  • LegitAction (former Sen. Russ Feingold’s new advocacy organization)

Jonathan Perloe is a member of the NPVct Working Group.

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