Testimony: National Popular Vote

Yesterday was the annual public hearing on the National Popular Vote Compact. Yet it was different, the most thorough and thoughtful hearing I have seen in ten years of testifying and observing the Government Elections and Administration Committee. Unfortunately, it was not televised – you really needed to be there.

You can read our testimony here: <read> Here is the summary:

My testimony this year is similar to that in past years. Nothing has changed to make this Compact any safer, nothing to make it less risky to democracy. Yet, events over the last year make the dangers all the more apparent.

In the past year, partisans in various states continue to promote voter Id laws, and with the Supreme Court’s effectively eliminating the voting rights act, it has been open season in other states for laws aimed at suppressing the vote. That is the kind of inequality that is contained by the Electoral College.

I understand the theoretical advantages of the national popular vote, yet there are extreme risks in its mismatch with our existing state-by-state voting system.

Many concepts such as Nuclear Power, GMOs, DDT, and Fracking have benefits, but also have unintended, unrecognized, and unappreciated consequences. This Compact is another

What often appears simple is not. The Compact would cobble the national popular vote onto a flawed system designed for the Electoral College. It does not change that system. It heightens the risks.

This is not a partisan issue. It has been opposed by prominent members of both major parties, including:

  • Susan Bysiewicz (D), former Secretary of the State
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), former California Governor
  • Mark Ritchie (D), MN Secretary of State and former President of the National Association of Secretaries of State
  • Daniel Patrick Moynihan(D), former Wesleyan professor and U.S. Senator
  • William Cibes (D), former State University System Chancellor

Major concerns include:

  • The 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act which govern declaring the President have been called a “Ticking Time Bomb” because of strict rules, coupled with ambiguity, causing problems seen in 1876 and 2000. The Compact would exacerbate that risky system.
  • There is no official national popular vote number compiled in time, such that it could be used to officially and accurately determine the winner in any close election.
  • Even if there were such a number, it would aggravate the flaws in the system. The Electoral College contains/limits the risk and the damage to a few swing states. With a national popular vote, errors, voter suppression, and fraud in all states would count against the national totals.
  • There is no national audit or recount available for close elections, to establish an accurate popular vote number. Only in some individual states, if close numbers happened to occur in those states, would there be even a fraction of a national recount. About half of the states have audits or close vote recounts.
  • With the Compact there is every reason to believe that any close election would be decided by partisian action of the Congress or the Supreme Court.. As in Gore v. Bush, since the founding, close election controversies have all been decided in seemingly partisan decisions by Congress, special commissions, or the Supreme Court.
  • This Compact will not make every voter equal. The state-by-state variations in the franchise and access to voting will remain intact, enfranchising and disenfranchising different voters in states.

I urge you to consider the risks and chaos made possible if Connecticut were to endorse the National Popular Vote Compact, including reading the attached editorials and arguments.

You can read all the testimony from everyone, present and not, here: <read>

But that is insufficient to get a flavor for the hearings. The transcripts (available sometime soon) may help, but they cover a six and one-half hour hearing, only a small portion of which is represented by the written testimony.

Most of the hearing centered on just the issues I have been raising since 2007. They have never gotten as thorough an airing. It was not just the large number of individuals testifying, prepared to discuss those subjects, it was also the Chairs setting the tone, and members all asking great questions and getting thorough answers.

Rep McGee started by explaining that many of his constituents did not understand how the Electoral College worked, followed by Rep Becker starting the discussion of the difficulties in determining the winner under the National Popular Vote. Most of the rest was those in favor attempting to describe how well the system would work under the Compact. While those of us opposed refuted those arguments with facts, and speculation based on past actions of officials.

Some dismissed that any Secretary of the State anywhere, or Registrar in Connecticut would avoid accurate counting of a critical tally. Dismissing past inaccurate counts in NY, as a poor example, since they did matter in the result – that in a critical situation the counts would have been resolved sooner. Others like me are not so sure given the actions of Catherine Harris in Florida, Ken Blackwell in Ohio, and the history of 1876.

I pointed out an instructive situation close to home. In Bridgeport Connecticut in November 2010,  the Secretary of the State stood by helplessly as a very questionable count was recorded, and many questioned the result in a close race for Governor. In the best interests the Secretary and the local Registrars worked out an agreement to audit all the districts to determine accurate counts. Yet, that agreement was nixed by the lawyers for Bridgeport, acting in what I assume was their view of the best interests of Bridgeport.  Those inaccurate, questionable results remain on the books today. Nothing has been done to improve the system so that in a future debacle the Secretary or Registrars, no matter how well intending, could end up in a similar bind.

(I lead the Citizen Recount of Bridgeport in 2010. We concluded that many votes were not counted and totals inaccurately accounted, yet that the correct Governor was certified. Beyond ballots not being counted , there were  in some districts many more ballots than checked-in voters, and in other districts many fewer ballots than checked-in voters. Nobody has or has reason to dispute our results. Yet they are not official and we still have a system we cannot trust to correct itself officially.)

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