HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut's General Assembly voted Saturday to join a group of states that want to pool their Electoral College votes for the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote, the first state legislature to do so since President Donald Trump's 2016 election.
If Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs the legislation into law, as expected, Connecticut will be the 12th jurisdiction — a combination of 11 states and the District of Columbia — to enter the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
"People are very excited. It really helps," said Barry Fadem, president of the California-based National Popular Vote organization. After lobbying Connecticut lawmakers to join the group for 11 years, Fadem said he hopes other states will now be encouraged to join.
The bill passed the state Senate on a 21-14 vote, with three Republicans joining 18 Democrats. It previously passed the House of Representatives 73-71.
Under the compact, participating states require their Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. In theory it would take effect once it involves states representing at least 270 electoral votes, the threshold to win the presidency. With the expected addition of Connecticut's seven electoral votes, the group now has 172.
When people vote for president, they really are choosing electors from the political parties. The college is made up of 538 electors, which corresponds to the number of seats held by states in the U.S. Senate and House, plus the three votes allotted to Washington, D.C. In the case of Trump, the Republican won the Electoral College but not the popular vote. Democrat Hillary Clinton won Connecticut in 2016.
Democratic State Rep. Matthew Lesser has been working on the issue in Connecticut since 2009 and believes Trump's electoral victory gave the issue "some renewed momentum," especially among activists who pushed for the legislation this session.
"My hope is, as other states take a look at it, that it won't simply be an effort to re-litigate the 2016 election," he said. Rather, he hopes states reflect on how two recent presidents, Trump and former Republican President George W. Bush in 2000, lost the popular vote but still won the election.
"That's a real problem," Lesser said. "That undercuts their ability to get things done."
Opponents, however, argue that Connecticut's influence in the presidential election will be hurt by the national popular vote. Republican Sen. Michael McLachlan predicted that candidates will only focus on large population centers, ignoring rural areas and small states like Connecticut.
"If you live in New York City, they may as well send limousines to get people to the polls," said McLachlan, who also predicted "a legal train wreck" if the compact ultimately gets enough states to vote in unison for the popular vote winner.
But supporters contend the legislation will re-energize disappointed voters who believe their votes don't count.
"Every person in the United States has the right to an equal voice in how our country is governed, and enacting a national popular vote ensures that right is upheld," said Democratic Sen. Mae Flexer.
Those jurisdictions that that have joined the pact include California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia — all where Clinton defeated Trump. Connecticut would be the first state to sign on since 2014, when New York joined.