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One person, one vote. What is wrong with that idea?

By BARBARA BROCKHURST

Publication: The Day

Published March 30. 2014 4:00AM   Updated March 30. 2014 1:26PM
AP Photo
Demonstrators march to the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee in December 2000 in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court decision stopping the counting of ballots. The nation endured a Constitutional crisis in the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote by a significant margin, yet George W. Bush was named the winner.

Correction: A previous version of this guest opinion incorrectly stated that Connecticut has 8 Electoral Votes. That has been corrected.

Connecticut should join popular vote movement

The League of Women Voters fully supports the National Popular Vote, or NPV Compact, and the pending legislation that would make Connecticut a part of it. A commentary by Day Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, suggesting that it would somehow lessen our state's importance in presidential elections, begs a response. ("Connecticut should reject popular vote scheme," March 16.)

It is generally accepted that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes from registered voters, nationwide, ought to be elected. The Electoral College system currently in use does not always give this result. Our system led to a very serious crisis in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court was forced to decide the contest. In that election, George Bush was elected even though Al Gore had won the popular vote by a significant margin.

To better explain why our current system fails, and how the NPV Compact will help, please consider this analogy. An election is held to elect the president of a group of three states: Left, Center and Right. Each of these states has 10,000 registered voters and has been assigned 10 Electoral Votes, based on their populations. On Election Day, the Left Party candidate wins in Left, as expected, by a vote of 6,000 to the Right candidate's 4,000. In Right, the Right Party candidate wins by a vote of 8,000 to 2,000 for the Left Party candidate. In Center, the race is extremely tight but ultimately won by the Left Party candidate with a vote of 5,100 to 4,900.

Since all but two states (including Connecticut) currently use the "winner take all" method of apportioning Electoral Votes, all three states in our example will, too. Under current law, therefore, the Left candidate is elected president with 20 of 30 Electoral Votes. Note that the actual margin of victory is only the 200 votes by which the candidate won in Center, however. As their names imply, Left and Right are like Connecticut and many other states, where the winner of every presidential race has become all but a forgone conclusion. Center has an outsized influence on the results.

A common misconception is that states are bound by the U.S. Constitution to allocate their Electoral votes as they do now. Actually, states are purposely given the sole power to determine how their Electoral votes are apportioned to candidates. The use of "winner takes all," for example, has been adopted state by state over time. Therefore, a Constitutional Amendment is not necessary or appropriate to change our election system. The Constitution only mandates the use of Electoral votes, assigned to each state on the basis of its population.

Returning to our example, the NPV analyses of the results would be quite different. The Right candidate would have won the presidency with a Popular Vote of 16,900 to 13,100 (56 percent to 44 percent). The popular votes in Left and Right contribute equally with that in Center, making its close tally less critical. In this way, use of NPV reduces the chances of another situation such as the "Florida Crisis" in 2000.

The Compact will come into use when enough states vote to participate such that the total number of their Electoral votes is more than half of the Electoral vote total. We are almost half way to that goal, now. Then, the states that commit to the process will allocate all of their collective Electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. The Electoral votes themselves will only serve to convey the result, whereas the popular vote will tell the story.

Presidential elections should never have devolved into the system we now have. With apologies to Nathan Hale, Connecticut's only regret should be that it has but 7 Electoral Votes to give for a significantly improved system. Please join the League of Women Voters and ask your state representatives to vote "yes" on raised House bill 5126, the National Popular Vote Compact bill.

Barbara Brockhurst is president of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut.

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