Will Connecticut Become the 7th State to Adopt NPV?
On Friday, a Connecticut legislative committee held a hearing on the NPV proposal. The hearing was lengthy, and the committee heard testimony from close to a dozen people. I was able to make it to Hartford for the day and was glad for the opportunity to talk to the committee about the dangers of NPV.
One of the more interesting moments in the hearing came during the testimony of a bill sponsor, Sen. Gary LeBeau. He was asked a question by Representative Matthew Lesser, an NPV supporter. The question was doubtless intended as a softball: Is NPV an end-run around the Constitution, as its detractors claim, or is it just another interstate compact, similar to any other compact that Connecticut has signed? Lesser obviously thought the answer was the latter and sat back, waiting for LeBeau to knock it out of the park. But LeBeau swung and missed.
“Hadn’t thought about it,” he responded.
None of the committee members called him on this response (doubtless out of respect for their colleague), but I was stunned. “Hadn’t thought about it”?! He sponsored a bill to change the presidential election system without considering its constitutionality? Did he consider other legal or logistical ramifications of adopting the bill before jumping onto NPV’s bandwagon?
I am sure that LeBeau is a well-meaning public servant who has simply made a mistake. I have no reason to otherwise believe anything negative about him. Unfortunately, the mistake he’s made is all too common among NPV supporters: They have gotten so immersed in their emotional reasons for supporting NPV that they have forgotten to spend time evaluating the legal and practical effects of the legislation. Thus, they fail to notice that NPV may not be constitutional (as I have detailed elsewhere). And they fail to realize that the gymnastics performed by NPV in its efforts to avoid a constitutional amendment will create more problems than are solved. Proponents’ concerns will not be resolved. They will be worsened.
Much of the testimony offered at Connecticut’s hearing was based on emotional logic. Citizens testified about their feelings: They are tired of “not counting” during presidential elections or “being ignored.” They wish candidates would spend as much time in their state as in Ohio or Florida. I am not without sympathy for their frustration, but I would suggest that change for the sake of change is not productive. If we are to change, we should change to something that will be an improvement. And NPV is not.
First, NPV proponents are wrong about the effects of the Electoral College. The system provides many benefits to a nation as diverse as our own. Presidential candidates must take into account the needs of the entire nation—even a true blue state like Connecticut. Indeed, if we take the full history of states’ voting into account, we see that there is no such thing as a permanently safe or swing state: No state can be safely ignored unless a political party wants to feel the ramifications at the polls. Even Connecticut voted Republican as recently as 1988, for George H.W. Bush. It also voted for Reagan, Ford and Nixon. Since 1970, the state has voted for as many Republican presidential candidates as it has Democratic ones.
But set these facts aside for a minute. Assume that the Electoral College causes a frustrating number of inequities among voters and needs to go. NPV will simply make the situation worse. As I testified on Friday, there is a very real chance that implementation of NPV will create many Equal Protection problems during presidential elections. NPV leaves in place 51 sets of state (and D.C.) laws. These varying laws do not matter when voters in Texas and Connecticut are casting ballots in different election pools: Today, the nation holds 51 sets of elections and achieves 51 different sets of results—i.e., each state is responsible only for electing its own slate of electors. But if voters across states are thrown into the same national election pool, the differing laws are hugely problematic.
Is it fair if Connecticut voters have fewer early voting opportunities than Texans? Are voters being treated equally if recount standards are different across states? Is it fair if felons can vote in some states, but not others?
Of course not. The most basic rule of democracy is that the same set of laws should apply to all voters in an election. NPV will simply ensure that one set of complaints about inequitable treatment is swapped out for another set of complaints—also about inequitable treatment.
No decision was made in Connecticut’s hearing, and (at least for now) the committee seems undecided about what to do. I understand that a working session may be held on the bill before the committee takes a public vote in a future meeting. Many of the committee members seemed open-minded and willing to consider all information before making a decision. Here’s hoping they maintain that attitude and reject the emotional arguments made by NPV and its proponents.
Information on the Committee can be found here. Information on the legislation can be found here and here. A third bill (here) by Senator Michael McLachlan would explicitly reject NPV and recognize the Electoral College as the best way to elect American Presidents.