Should We Change the Way We Elect?

State Representative for Stamford Gerald Fox III weighs in on the National Popular Vote movement.


Would you call the current presidential election process a fair one? How about in terms of how a voters voice is ultimately weighed?

Currently, the voting system for a presidential election in the United States works as follows: You go vote, votes are tallied up across the whole state, and then the state submits its electoral college votes to whoever had the most votes in the state.

Each state has a different amount of electoral college votes. A state's population determines the number of electoral college votes it has to offer. Connecticut currently controls 7 votes. New York controls 29. California controls 55.

The National Popular Vote movement wants to change the way those states allocate their votes. The legislation it proposes currently has support of about half the states/electoral vote weight it would need to enact it. In Connecticut, the legislation has passed the House, but not the Senate.

"The winner of the national popular vote doesn't always win," said National Popular Vote Regional Director Ryan O'Donnell. "That's happened 4 times out of a total of 56 presidential elections. That's one out of 14. It's even worse when it's narrowed down in close elections. Then it's even more likely the wrong winner is going to win."

The elections O'Donnell were referring to were 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. In the most recent instance, George W. Bush was appointed to the presidency by winning the electoral college numbers despite losing the overall count among voters.

"Something that happens every election, though, is the country really gets carved up into two kinds of states: swing states and safe states," O'Donnell said. "Connecticut's a safe state. It's a spectator. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are both going to ignore Connecticut. They're not going to spend any significant amount of time here unless it's to raise money to send somewhere else."

O'Donnell wants to see all 50 states join the movement to designate each state's electoral college votes to the overall popular vote winner. Indeed, it would change the way elections were run. Even if, say, Connecticut voted all red in November, if the rest of the country voted blue, Connecticut would send it's 7 votes to the overall winner. 

Suddenly, a candidate can't just focus on winning a set number of states to make up a winning number of electoral college votes. O'Donnell sees a future where the president would need to try his or her hardest to win the mind of every single voter out there.

State Representative Gerald Fox III supports the notion. On the Government Administration and Elections Committee, Fox has voted to support the efforts of the National Popular Vote movement and said he would continue to do so in the future.

"For the past couple of years, the National Vote Movement has been trying to pass legislation across the country," Fox said. "We've had situations where the individual who got the most votes did not win the election. In a democracy such as ours, that's a difficult situation to explain."

Fox agreed that adopting such a voting plan would open up the potential weight for each individual voter. Every state could feel like a part of the process again, instead of certain states being focused on because of the electoral college votes ultimately offered there.

"There is a tremendous amount of resources placed in such a small number of states," Fox said. "I wouldn't say the current system is necessarily broken. We almost always get the individual with the most votes elected. It's more of a logic issue. The person with the most votes should always be the winner of an election."

This, O'Donnell said, was the point of his efforts.

"Every state ought to be relevant."

 -- Ed. Note: Patch reached out to State Rep. for Stamford & New Canaan William Tong, who voted Nay on the National Vote Bill, for comment, but did not hear back by press time.

toto September 26, 2012 at 09:16 PM
The Founding Fathers in the Constitution did not require states to allow their citizens to vote for president, much less award all their electoral votes based upon the vote of their citizens. The presidential election system we have today is not in the Constitution, and enacting National Popular Vote would not need an amendment. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award Electoral College votes, were eventually enacted by states, using their exclusive power to do so, AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. Now our current system can be changed by state laws again. Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution-- "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive." The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected.
toto September 26, 2012 at 09:18 PM
A majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the Founders' rejected methods in the nation's first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century. Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election. In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes. The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.
toto September 26, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution says "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state's electoral votes. As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner-take-all method– a reminder that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not required to change the way the President is elected. The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.
toto September 26, 2012 at 09:20 PM
The National Popular Vote bill would change existing state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country. Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.
toto September 26, 2012 at 09:23 PM
National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate. And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don't matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659). With National Popular Vote, there would be no more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country. During the course of campaigns with National Popular Vote, candidates will be educated and campaign about local, regional, and state issues across the U.S. They will take this knowledge and prioritization with them once they are elected. Candidates need to be educated and care about all of our states.


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