How we can make the popular vote matter again

Students wait in line to vote at the Mansfield Community Center on November 8, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Democratic presidential candidates have won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections, and yet, there’s been an equal number of Republicans and Democrats in the White House since 1992.

This should disgust any freedom-loving American, regardless of party.

Said phenomenon is frustrating because, for one, there seems to be little that can be done to amend it, but further, because our country espouses such moral platitudes as “individualism,” “the will of the people” and “democracy.” Allowing Trump and Bush to ascend to the White House is a rejection of these so-called principles. Hemming and hawing between the Left and the Right about this issue – the Right saying geographical distance should factor into the final tally and that Clinton didn’t run a campaign amenable to the Electoral College – has cancelled out any talk of a solution to more human beings voting for the loser than the winner. A flicker of faith remains, though, in the National Popular Vote Compact.

According to FiveThirtyEight, “The compact represents a clever workaround to the Electoral College. By signing on, states agree they will award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote… However, the measure will only be triggered once states accounting for a majority of electoral votes have joined. There are 538 electoral votes…so a majority is 270. The compact’s signatories, so far, total 165 electoral votes. That represents a lot of progress since Maryland, with its 10 electoral votes, became the first state to join the compact in 2007.” Members of National Popular Vote Inc. (NPVI), a non-profit organization meant to bring attention to this issue, have been fighting to circumvent the Electoral College via state legislatures throughout the country. In fact, “The bill has passed a total of 33 legislative chambers in 22 states,” according to NPVI’s website.

The idea’s genius lies in its recognition of the fact that the federal government does not need to create and vote on a constitutional amendment in order to purge the country of the Electoral College, which would be, most likely, impossible, in lieu of partisan gridlock. At last (or, at least, since 2006, when NPVI was founded) Americans have a concrete option to eradicate/get past the corrupt Electoral College.

Presidential candidates ignore all but about 10 swing states because of the Electoral College. Every vote does not count because of the Electoral College. The election could end in a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College system. Third parties who may have performed well in one or two states can alter the outcome of the entire election under the Electoral College (ahem, Ralph Nader and Jill Stein). The most prominent reason why the Electoral College is wrong is how it originated. Peter Beinart of The Atlantic writes: “Some of the [constitutional] framers wanted Congress to choose the president. Many white southerners supported the Electoral College because it counted their non-voting slaves as three-fifths of a person, and thus gave the South more influence than it would have enjoyed in a national vote. The founders compromised by leaving it up to state legislatures. State legislatures could hand over the selection of electors to the people as a whole…But…the people’s voice would still not be absolute. No matter how they were selected, the electors would retain the independence to make their own choice.”

This sounds dire, but, ironically, the fact that electors can choose whomever they wish is what is keeping hope alive in the modern quest to abolish the Electoral College. That specific provision in the Constitution allows the National Popular Vote Compact to exist and flourish, as the law is predicated on electors deciding to cast their ballots for the winner of the popular vote. That said, if the compact were triggered, it would face controversy: “If enough states ever sign on, the plan would likely face a court challenge, with the Supreme Court getting to rule on whether the plan passes constitutional muster,” Politifact noted

Acknowledging this should not discourage, but gird those who are seeking to increase the level of democracy in the United States.

The District of Columbia, Illinois, Vermont, New York, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland and Hawaii have agreed to the Compact, giving the movement 165 out of the 270 needed votes to activate it.

The next state to consider joining this group is our very own Connecticut.

Today, there will be a public hearing in Hartford hosted by the General Administration and Elections Committee on House Bill 5434 regarding the National Popular Vote Compact. Just two days ago, New Mexico’s State Senate passed a bill supporting the Compact. There is an apparent and heartening surge in momentum for this law.

I urge anyone with a sense of fairness and a penchant for democracy to support this bill specifically and this Compact in general, whether that means calling your representative or coming to the hearing. The leader of our country should never be the loser of the popular vote. Such an outcome is morally, logically and civically reprehensible.


Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.