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Let's Make Our Presidential Votes Matter—A Commentary by Doug Rand ’10

The following commentary was published in The Hartford Courant on February 18, 2009.

Let's Make Our Presidential Votes Matter
By Doug Rand ’10

Connecticut suffers from a bad case of presidential neglect — and we're not alone. Every four years, presidential candidates focus their resources on a dwindling number of swing states with hotly contested electoral votes, ignoring the rest of us. Shouldn't the nation's highest office go to the candidate who wins the most popular votes? Instead, we get a president who panders to the voters who live in Ohio, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states that happen to be battlegrounds.

It doesn't have to be this way. Connecticut can band together with other states to enact a national popular vote for president by 2012. The National Popular Vote bill (HB 6437) is coming before the Connecticut General Assembly this session, and a hearing is scheduled for today. We should join Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii in pushing the nation closer to that magical moment when every citizen's vote becomes equally important. Such a national popular vote would make presidential candidates pay attention to every voter, not just those in swing states.

Connecticut is most definitely not a swing state. President Barack Obama beat Sen. John McCain here by a whopping 23 percentage points. There was never any doubt about which way Connecticut would swing, so we got no love. The candidates spent virtually nothing on political ads in Connecticut in the months before Election Day, and did not set foot here for a general campaign event. But if it makes you feel any better, they ignored 30 other spectator states, as well.

While we're being taken for granted, presidents lavish their attention on the pet issues of swing states. How else do you explain George W. Bush abandoning his free trade principles in 2002 and handing Pennsylvania steelworkers a protectionist tariff? Why else do Democratic and Republican presidents take largely the same line toward Castro, if not to appease Florida's key Cuban voters? Presidents don't devote the same attention to spectator-state concerns such as pharmaceutical innovation (Connecticut, New Jersey) or high tech (California, Massachusetts, Texas). Yet these are nationally significant policy issues.

What's worse, not only are presidents ignoring Connecticut voters, but we're ignoring each other. Instead of organizing within our own communities in 2008, we made phone calls and field trips to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire or even farther-flung swing states. We reached out to distant voters instead of to our neighbors. "I don't need to convince my uncle," we said, "our votes don't matter." How sad is that?

OK, now for the nitty-gritty on how to enact a national popular vote: The Constitution unambiguously gives each state the exclusive power to decide how to divvy up its Electoral College votes (electors). Most states give all of their electors to whomever wins the most votes within that state, which perpetuates the problem of beloved battlegrounds vs. spurned spectators.

Instead, imagine if every state agreed to give its electors to the winner of the most votes nationwide. This nationwide winner would get 100 percent of the electors and become president.

But winning the White House doesn't require 100 percent of the Electoral College — the magic number is just 270 electors (out of 538). So, if Connecticut banded together with enough other states, red and blue alike, we could give our 270 electors to the nationwide popular vote winner.

This interstate compact would kick in only at the moment we control 270 electors, and then every vote in the country would matter — whether in blue Connecticut or red Texas or purple Pennsylvania.

There is no reason to believe that this reform will favor Republican or Democratic candidates, and the idea has received widespread support from both parties. American elections are more secure when every vote counts, because fraud becomes futile — a nationwide margin of victory includes far too many votes to steal.

Let's face it, Connecticut: We're part of a massive political backwater, along with the vast majority of other ignored American voters. By joining this compact, we have nothing to lose but our irrelevance.

Doug Rand is a second-year student at Yale Law School. He lives in New Haven with his wife.