Connecticut recently joined a number of other states in drafting legislation that will pledge its electoral votes to whomever wins the popular vote in a Presidential election. This movement seems born of of “outrage” and negative reaction to Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016, despite losing the popular vote to Clinton by a few million.

As is so often the case with structural changes based on a single outlier data point, this move will come to bite Connecticut’s residents/voters in the ass. Consider:

Clinton beat Trump by 2.865M votes, nationally. Clinton beat Trump by 4.270M votes in the state of California (61.7% to 31.6%). Thus, the popular vote outcome was, in essence, “flipped” by the voters in California.

In declaring its 7 electoral votes for the popular vote getter, Connecticut would anchor its 3.588M residents to California’s 39.54M, New York’s 19.85M, and Illinois’ 12.8M – all three reliably “blue” like Connecticut is currently considered. And, in doing so, the legislators in Connecticut have essentially declared their state irrelevant as far as Presidential politics go.

The core reason for the Electoral College system of presidential elections is to keep smaller states relevant, because a purely popular vote contest would witness a VASTY different politicking and political spending scheme. Candidates would direct their campaigning, their promises, their largesse, and the idea of issue tailoring to the most populous states, and a broadly inclusive strategy that seeks to offset the other party’s “sure thing” states would no longer be viable. And, once in office, the incentive that the President would have to treat the citizens of small states well would diminish.

I get the supposedly nonpartisan arguments for a national popular vote for the Presidency, i.e. battleground states get all the attention, but the states that are battlegrounds change over time, with voters’ changing priorities and migrations. And, lets be honest. The real (crass, partisan) reason for this popular vote movement is that the Democratic Party thinks it was “cheated” out of a victory it assumed was certain, and also thinks that it has a permanent majority of voters in its fold. But, nothing is forever in politics – we’ve heard this “permanent majority” business many times before. So, what happens when and if a popular Republican rises to the national stage? After all, George W. Bush won the popular vote by 3 million votes in 2004, when Connecticut’s 7 electoral votes went to Kerry. Under the new rule, 155 electoral votes that went to Kerry would have gone to Bush. Would the outcome have changed? No. But, Bush, instead of winning a squeaker with 286 electoral votes, would have had grounds to declare a mandate with a massive 441 electoral vote victory, and that may very well have shaped his second term very differently.

I don’t dispute that Presidential elections are affected by the Electoral college system. Any voting scheme and rule set will result in strategies tailored to it. That includes an electors-to-national-popular-vote scheme. While some argue that a “better” system would have produced less controversial results (i.e. their candidate would have won) it’s intellectually dishonest, or at least lazy, to assume that the popular vote tally we witnessed in 2016 would have been the same had the contest been solely about popular vote. Both candidates and campaigns would have behaved and strategized differently, and, as importantly, voter behaviors would have been very different.

This holds true for every modification to the current system. When human behavior is a variable, it’s impossible to declare definitively that a different rule set would have produced a more desired outcome.

Meanwhile, such state-level initiatives may feel good, but they do harm to those states’ voters.

Maine and Nebraska do not award their electors winner-take-all, and instead award by district, with the state’s popular vote winner getting the “senator” component of the electoral tally (a state’s electoral votes equals its number of Senators and Representatives i.e. the number of Congressional districts plus two). While this granulizes voting in the state, giving voice to minority-party regions, it also dilutes each state’s relevance on the national stage. If the difference between winning and losing in a state is small, candidates are more likely to devote their efforts to states where the difference is large.

Expanding this system piece-meal, as the National Popular Vote initiative is doing, would make every state that adopts it less relevant. If Pennsylvania adopted the Nebraska model, Trump would have taken 14 electoral votes, and Clinton 6 (Trump won 12 of 18 districts). If California adopted the Nebraska model, it would have split 48-7. Less of a differential between winning and losing a state means less focus on that state. While, nationally, that might be desirable, it doesn’t benefit the state that is early to adopt such a change.

We could dissect any other Presidential voting scheme similarly, and conclude A – that voter and candidate behavioral changes would make its actual effect difficult to predict ahead of time, and B – the states that adopt changed systems are very likely to become less relevant on the national stage if others do not follow suit.

The current initiative feels rooted in an outcome disliked by the last election’s losers, and one outlier loss is usually a stupid reason to change the rule book. But, consider the list of states that have adopted this national popular vote scheme: CA CT HI IL MD MA NJ NY RI VT WA. Imagine what might happen if Trump wins the popular vote in 2020. He’ll rack up well over 400 electoral votes, declare himself a super-bigly landslide winner, and elicit sky-screams the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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