A fairer, safer way to elect our presidents

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Robert Mueller’s indictments last Friday confirm that even Russian hackers know where to find the people who elect America’s president. “The defendants and their co-conspirators,” says the federal court filing, “learned…that they should focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.’”

Under our system, the outcome of the winner-take-all contest in about 40 states is practically preordained when campaigning starts. So Russian election-disrupters — like U.S. presidential candidates — know where to put their resources. And it’s not in Connecticut, where Hilary Clinton became the seventh Democrat in a row to win the state’s electoral votes.

In 2016, two-thirds of 399 presidential campaign events were held in just six states, according to the organization National Popular Vote, and 94 percent were held in just 12 states (11 of them identified as battlegrounds early that year). Just one event was held in Connecticut.

This is no way to run an election. Americans are alienated and disheartened about politics and distrust their government. They have a good reason: For the vast majority, including here in Connecticut, their votes simply don’t count.

But Hartford has the opportunity this spring to pass a bill that could soon guarantee that the candidate who gets the most popular votes throughout the country will become president. Polls have consistently shown that most Americans prefer this system to the one we have now – and a survey released Wednesday [ed: Feb. 21] finds that most Connecticut voters, including most Republicans, want to pick the president by popular vote as well.

The survey found that 78 percent of Connecticut voters – including 92 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Republicans, and 76 percent of independents — agree that “the person who wins the most votes nationwide should be elected president.”

In addition, a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents “would be more likely to vote” for a candidate for Connecticut governor or legislator who “promised to support the National Popular Vote plan.” The survey last month of 1,202 voters throughout the state was conducted by the national pollster Andrew Claster.

But shouldn’t Republicans like me support the status quo out of self-interest? In the past five elections, the current system has produced two GOP presidents who received fewer popular votes than their opponents. But that view is short-sighted. Consider:

  • Of the six largest states, three are solidly Democratic (with 104 electoral votes), one is solidly Republican (38), and two are toss-ups (49).
  • If 60,000 Ohio voters had cast their ballots for John Kerry instead of George W. Bush in 2004, the Democrat would have been president — despite losing by 3 million popular votes.
  • Surveys show the United States has been a right-of-center country for the past quarter-century. Republicans should win a popular-vote majority in a nationwide race

Some Republicans argue that a nationwide popular vote violates the Founders’ intentions, but that isn’t true. The Constitution (Article II, Sect. 1) says, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….” It’s the right of the states to determine how their electoral votes are awarded.

Connecticut can now join 10 states and the District of Columbia in requiring its electoral votes go the candidate who gets the most votes nationally. When states with a total of 270 electoral votes pass this law, or compact, it will go into effect – and a popular vote will determine the presidency.

Let’s get back to the Russians. It’s still unclear whether their conspiracy affected the outcome of the 2016 election, but it certainly could have. After all, with a shift of just 40,000 votes in three states, Donald Trump would have lost.

If we elected the president by popular vote, “It would be more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country,” wrote national security experts Ben Haas and Matt Olsen in Politico. “And it would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts.”

Turning every state purple and allowing every vote to count equally will help restore confidence in American democracy. It’s the right and fair thing to do, and, in these times, it’s the safe thing to do as well.

Ambassador James K. Glassman, formerly of Falls Village, served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the George W. Bush Administration. He is a member of the board of directors of the Making Every Vote Count Foundation.


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