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Connecticut Joins the Quiet Campaign to Undermine Constitutional Presidential Elections (Washington Examiner) May 21, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Both houses of the Connecticut legislature recently passed the National Popular Vote Bill, which now sits on the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who is expected to sign it. With his approval, Connecticut will join a quiet campaign to undo the Electoral College by means of a clever end run rather than a proper constitutional amendment.

Four times in our history (fewer than 10 percent of presidential elections), the winner of the popular vote lost the presidency in the Electoral College. The issue is on many minds these days, since two of the four were in this century: George W. Bush’s win over Al Gore in 2000 and Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

Rather than take the straightforward and transparent approach of changing the electoral process by constitutional amendment, proponents of change want to travel an easier incremental path: asking state legislatures to approve the National Popular Vote Bill. The bill, when adopted by enough states to constitute 270 electoral votes, triggers a requirement that each state signing onto the compact cast its electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. Very clever, indeed.

Connecticut will become the 12th state (including the District of Columbia) to sign on, with a cumulative total of 172 electoral votes, only 98 shy of the goal. Of course, politics are always at play in voting bills, and not coincidentally all of the states approving so far are liberal — for example, all were states carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. The bill has been introduced in 11 other state legislatures, and with the Trump win still stinging Democrats, it may gain further momentum from Connecticut’s recent approval.

There is both an historic case and a current argument for the elector system established in Article II and the 12th Amendment of the Constitution. The Founders sought all manner of checks and balances along with separations of power in what they clearly understood to be a federal republic, not a direct democracy. So there would be two chambers of Congress, one for the people (the House of Representatives) and one for the states (the Senate). Likewise, both the people, through the popular vote, and the states, with the electoral vote, would play a role in choosing a president. Tinkering with federalism in favor of more direct democracy has become trendy, but if you are going to do it, at least be big enough to follow the Constitution’s own process for change and pass an amendment.

But even today, there is a practical role for the elector system.

Have you noticed what the candidates do in the last couple of weeks of a campaign? They crisscross the country, stopping in key battleground states, arguing the issues of special importance there in order to win the requisite electoral votes. And how would they campaign if there were only a national popular vote? They would go to the big cities and states and appear on popular media. It is hard to say that this is a preferable campaign. In addition, votes must be counted at some level and, under the present elector system, if there are recounts, these are only in one or two states. Imagine the specter of a national recount with the popular vote and even the possibility of not being able to seat a president by inauguration day.

If you want to change the electoral system, there would be an easier and more fair way to do it by eliminating winner-take-all electoral rules in the states. These are not constitutionally mandated, and each state controls that decision. In fact, Nebraska and Maine already allocate electoral votes by congressional district, rather than winner-take-all. This would eliminate some of the unfairness the pro-democracy people see while not beginning to undo the constitutional system of the republic.

Connecticut’s vote should be a wake-up call, not a call to a clever end run around the Constitution.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/connecticut-joins-the-quiet-campaign-to-undermine-constitutional-presidential-elections

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