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    Wednesday, May 31, 2023

    Connecticut should reject popular vote scheme

    The National Popular Vote folks are at it again in Connecticut. They want to end the practice of using the Electoral College system to determine the election of the president. Instead, the candidate who gets the most votes nationally would become president.

    They don't, however, want to amend the Constitution to make this change - the way it should be done - because the movement apparently sees that goal as too difficult.

    Instead, its backers seek a clumsy and byzantine approach, one wrought with potential problems. What might happen if the Connecticut General Assembly endorses the plan, enters into the compact and the governor signs the legislation?

    Picture this.

    Connecticut voters make a clear choice who they want to be president. The state's support is enough to give that candidate the electoral votes necessary to become president. However, because Connecticut's choice to lead the country did not win the popular vote, Connecticut has to give its electoral votes to the other guy, electing him (or her).

    I expect that would not sit well with many of those who voted in the majority, only to see their choice ignored.

    How could such a thing happen? The National Popular Vote legislation requires states that sign on to this movement to agree to cast their electoral votes for the top voter getter nationally, regardless of who that state's voters want to be president.

    So far, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed National Popular Vote laws. They control 136 electoral votes, which means the movement is about halfway to its goal of locking up 270 electoral votes in this manner, the majority necessary to elect someone president.

    So, the Electoral College system would remain in place, but all these states would basically be committed to ignoring it and making sure the popular vote, not the Electoral College system, determined the winner.

    I can see that plan unraveling quickly. One can easily imagine the anger of voters in, for argument's sake, a traditional Republican state seeing the state's electoral votes handed to the Democrat - against the will of the people in that state - giving the Democrat enough electoral votes to win. Can anyone doubt the legislature would be pressed to return in special session, abandon the National Popular Vote compact, and back the voters' choice?

    A rush for the exits would soon follow among other states.

    The National Popular Vote organization calls this impossible because the compact prohibits it. They also say such a reversal would face insurmountable constitutional hurdles. That's debatable. At the very least, it invites potential chaos.

    Motivating the popular vote movement are arguments of fairness and making more states relevant. The fairness issue is basic - the candidate with the most votes should win. A strong argument can be made for that position, but is this version of "fair" what is best for the country and Connecticut? The current system has arguably served the nation well for 207 years.

    Less credible is the contention that election by popular vote will force the candidates to pay attention to more states. Currently, candidates focus their resources and their visits largely on contested states, particularly those with big electoral numbers. Yet, I suspect, even with a popular vote determining the winner, candidates would continue to give their attention to big population centers, which does not describe Connecticut or its cities.

    In any event, if the people of the United States want to abandon the Electoral College system in favor of the direct election of the president, they should do so by formally amending the U.S. Constitution. It may be difficult, but it is preferable to the controversy the National Popular Vote arrangement invites.

    Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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