In the days following the November election, a nonpartisan grassroots movement sprang to life with the objective of getting Connecticut to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Through social media and word of mouth, National Popular Vote Compact CT (NPV CT) has grown to include some 500 supporters from more than 45 towns across the state.
A working group of approximately 20 activists—including students, young professionals, working parents, and retirees—is leading the effort. With HB 5434 likely to be raised by the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee of the CT General Assembly, the group is preparing to testify at the public hearing that it expects to be announced shortly.
Supporters of NPV CT believe that in a democracy every vote should matter equally and the nation's leader should be the candidate who wins the most popular votes. Neither was true in this past election. Under the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes, voters in Connecticut and other reliably blue or red states receive scant attention during the general election, except as a campaign “ATM.”
As Jonathan Perloe, a communications strategist living in Greenwich explains, “The NPV Interstate Compact is an elegant way to ensure that every vote cast for president matters equally, without having to abolish the Electoral College.” Under the Compact, all of the participating states’ electoral votes will be awarded to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states. The Compact takes effect once states possessing 270 electoral votes, the number required to elect the President, have joined.
Five bills to enter Connecticut into the Compact have been introduced in the General Assembly. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney proposed Senate Bill 9, one of 10 bills that his spokesperson called “legislative priorities.” Representatives Matt Lesser and James Albis introduced HB 5434 with 10 co-sponsors. The measure is not new; it passed the House in 2009 and received bipartisan joint favorable votes in the GAE Committee in 2011, 2013, and 2014.
According to Andrea Levien, a third year law student at Yale University, “A key reason the bill has not passed both chambers in past sessions was for lack of public awareness.” That’s not true now says Steven Winter, a New Haven-based business operations professional who has led grassroots organizing on climate change and affordable housing. “The response to local outreach efforts has been tremendous in New Haven and around the state. People are excited when they learn how we can make elections more democratic.”
The Compact has been endorsed by numerous national groups, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice, the National Latino Congreso, and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. In Connecticut, chapters of the League of Women Voters and Common Cause have both testified in support of the bill.
Support for the Compact crosses party lines. Former Vice President Al Gore, and Jill Stein of the Green Party, favor the Compact. In 2014, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote, “This important project has the potential to transform the way we elect our presidents and to make sure all Americans have a voice in their future." During President Trump’s first week in office the Wall Street Journal reported that he told Congressional leaders he was “interested in getting rid of the Electoral College and replacing it with a national popular vote.”
Many editorial pages have endorsed the Compact, including the Hartford Courant and the Connecticut Post. Citizen support for the Compact is widespread as demonstrated by a recently published op-ed co-signed by more than 50 members of Pantsuit Nation CT from 36 towns across the state.
NPV CT is currently focused on recruiting supporters to attend and testify at an expected GAE public hearing. Simultaneously, outreach is ongoing to educate the public about the benefits of the Compact and to counter objections of those who favor the status quo.
In response to one challenge by opponents of the Compact—that large cities would dominate rural areas—NPV CT Working Group member Lisa Kelly, a marketer of children’s books who recently moved to Guilford, explains, “The idea that a national popular vote system would favor large cities is not true. There are fewer than 50 cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 500,000. It’s the vast majority of the country—87 percent—that lives outside large cities that have the most voting power.” Adds Hilary Grant, a sales representative and long-time resident of New Haven, “It simply comes down to principles of democracy and equality—each and every one of us deserves an equal say. Whether I live in South Dakota or New Jersey should make no difference to the weight of my vote.”
Some see the Compact as an end-run around the Constitution. That view does not comport with the actual language of the Constitution explains Mel Sorcher, an organizational psychologist living in Westport. “The Constitution is silent on how states should allocate their electoral votes. It simply reads, ‘in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct’.” It wasn’t until 1824 that states adopted the winner-take-all system used by 48 of 50 states today. Greenwich attorney Sandy Litvack believes Connecticut voters, regardless of party preference, should have a greater say in the outcome. “The winner-take-all arrangement does not serve the interests of Connecticut voters, especially in comparison to battleground states.” The irrelevance of Connecticut to the presidential election is evident from general election campaign events. Of nearly 400 events, 94 percent were held in just 12 states, only one was held in Connecticut.
Writer, videographer and actor’s agent Rozanne Gates of Westport reports that NPV CT organizers are working on multiple fronts to encourage members of the GAE Committee to hold a public hearing. “We believe the NPV bill deserves a full and transparent airing so legislators can cast informed votes, taking into account the views of their constituents.” Past surveys have shown that three-quarters of Connecticut voters, including a majority of Republicans, think the candidate who gets the most votes in the country should become President.
To build awareness of the Compact public forums featuring advocates on both sides of the issue are being planned by NPV CT in Westport and with local partners in Greenwich; other locations are expected to follow. The organization’s digital presence is being expanded and new supporters are signing up every day.
The group has a Facebook community (search National Popular Vote CT) a website at NPVct.com, and it can be followed on Twitter (@NPVct). Those who are interested can sign up for email alerts at eepurl.com/cuHqLj.