Efforts to diminish Electoral College must persist in Connecticut, nationwide

ten states and the District of Columbia have passed the NPVC into law, accumulating 165 electoral votes in favor of more democratic elections. Connecticut could be next. (Jim Bowen/Flickr Creative Commons)

This country has not heeded its people’s voice. There is no justification for the Electoral College, an outdated arrangement throughout our history that has repeatedly declared the loser, the winner. Tiny, seemingly inconsequential Connecticut can lead the way in fixing the obstacle that the slaveholding, elitist founding fathers put in the way of popular will.  

In last week’s column I wrote about my support for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVC), which, if states accounting for 270 electoral votes adopted, would essentially circumvent the Electoral College and award the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. The Connecticut Legislature held a hearing on the matter, and its accompanying proposed bill – H.B. 5434 – the day my column was published, last Wednesday, Feb. 22.

So far, ten states and the District of Columbia have passed the NPVC into law, accumulating 165 electoral votes in favor of more democratic elections. Connecticut could be next. According to people in attendance that day, the preliminary press conference, called by Senate President Pro-Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and the period of testimony before the Government Administration and Elections Committee (GAEC), was encouraging for the cause.

“I was very heartened by the turnout at the National Popular Vote public hearing,” Stephanie Sponzo, a sixth-semester University of Connecticut student majoring in political science, said. “Every seat was filled, and it was among the most enthusiastic advocacy groups I have seen yet.”

“The Electoral College is, in many ways, an antiquated system, and I’m glad to see that legislators across the nation are taking steps to rethink its effectiveness,” Sponzo added.

I am not writing today solely to deliver the good news. As is the nature of politics in our day and age, making sure the votes of our citizens actually count has become a partisan issue, and Republicans are on the wrong side of the conversation. Take the Empty-Suit-Senator from my home district, Art Linares, the author of a nonsensical bill meant as a response to H.B. 5434. The objective of Linares’ legislation is, per the text of the bill: “To award the Electoral College vote for the state's second congressional district to the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates who win the popular vote in said congressional district.” If you read that sentence, you’re probably as confused as Art is.

Listen, I get it. Your guy “won,” so you feel the need to compensate for his loss in the popular vote. You do your stretches then dive headlong into your mental gymnastics. Perhaps these arduous exercises explain why the testimony offered in defense of the Electoral College was so long-winded. It was Blaise Pascal who once said: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.”

Speaking of time, Republicans on the GAEC recognized the value of it at the hearing. Knowing full well that H.B. 5434 would receive overwhelming grassroots support, they sought out three “experts” who are not from Connecticut. Marta Daniels, a member of Chester, Connecticut’s Town Democratic Committee, explained the move as a filibuster in an email.

“There were virtually no opponents who testified against the NPV in the morning, and certainly no one from the general public,” the email read. “Lacking opposition to the NPV, GOP committee members…did what they had done in all three prior NPV Hearings over the last six years:  They [brought] in three anti-NPV ‘experts’… They were permitted to jump the queue and as soon as their 5-minute time to testify was up, the GOP committee members began peppering them with leading, arcane and repetitive questions concerning obscure historical info…Each of the three out-of-staters got about 45 minutes apiece to testify! Up until then, no one went more than 10 or 15 minutes. This filibustering process caused many people who wanted to testify to leave.”

After sifting through the public testimony, I was astonished by the sheer number of those backing the bill, and by the arrogance of Republicans who tried a variety of tricks to skew public opinion on the matter. For context, out of 164 letters of testimony, I’ve determined that 134 Connecticut residents supported HB 5434, whereas 13 Connecticut natives were against it. 10 supporters of the bill did not specify where they were from, as opposed to two people who didn’t say where they were from and were against the bill. Three people from out of state resisted the bill, while two out-of-staters supported it (these two being Barry Fadem and John Koza, two founders of National Popular Vote Inc.).

This is a frightening development symbolically similar to the presidential election itself. The few detractors of the bill, some with no stock in Connecticut, were given a disproportionate amount of time in an undemocratic, Republican effort to silence supporters of the bill. It’s almost like how voters in rural areas were given a disproportionate sway in the election because…well, I’ll let Republicans do their calisthenics and they can get back to me on why that’s acceptable.

With a combination of grassroots voters and high-profile Democrats like Gov. Dannel Malloy in favor of this bill, it has the potential to be enacted. I found it ironic that the small amount of people fighting against this bill often blamed the fact that Clinton lost for the momentum of the NPVC campaign. This, coming from the same people who’d raise their pitchforks if Clinton had lost the popular vote but had been elected president. The NPVC isn’t about party; it’s about fairness.

I urge Connecticut legislators, and legislators around the country, to hold referendums on this topic. The single most important factor in red states refusing to entertain this idea is that they know this country is changing, that it’s moving away from homogeneity and the old guard is cracking. Our current president represents the last vestiges of that bygone era; he is the twisted embodiment of our country’s long-term relationship with white supremacy and callous capitalism. Anyways, are referendums not the very definition of states’ rights?

While the bill’s detractors put forth drawn-out theories on states’ rights and the sanctity of the Constitution, this debate really is as simple as one constituent from Willimantic, Linda Quinet, put it in her letter: “The current Electoral College system gave us the incompetent person we have as head of the U.S. government rather than an experienced public servant who got nearly three million more votes nationwide. This is reason enough to support H.B. 5434.”


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