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Senate approves Connors bill to join National Popular Vote Pact

Greg Pare // Published May 19, 2009 in Rhode Island General Assembly

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation to join Rhode Island into a pact with other states to ensure that the candidates who win the most votes nationwide in presidential elections are the ones who win the White House.

The legislation (2009-S0161), sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Daniel P. Connors (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), is similar to legislation that has been introduced in state legislatures across the country in an effort to prevent the Electoral College from choosing a president and vice president who did not win the popular vote.

Identical legislation was approved by both the Senate and the House last year, but vetoed by Governor Donald L. Carcieri.

“Four times in our country’s history we have been led by presidents who did not win the support of the majority of Americans. That is not how democracy should work. Each person’s vote should be counted equally. We have the technology to determine exactly how many votes are cast for each candidate across the country, and it’s time we started directly electing our president and vice president that way,” said Majority Leader Connors.

The legislation would commit Rhode Island to a compact that would assign participating states’ electoral votes in presidential elections to whichever candidates were the winner of the popular vote nationwide.

The compact would not take effect until the total number of electoral votes of the states that have joined is enough to constitute a majority of the Electoral College. The compact would terminate if the Electoral College were abolished.

The Electoral College awards votes to states based on their total number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen and women. Most states designate their Electoral College votes in a “winner-take-all” fashion, meaning that all of their votes go the candidate who won the majority in that state.

However, that system allows a candidate to win simply by winning the majority in states with large numbers of Electoral College votes, not necessarily winning the majority nationwide.

Four presidents, George W. Bush (in 2000), Grover Cleveland (1888), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) and John Quincy Adams (1824), became president without winning the popular vote. The last three won because of the way votes are apportioned by the Electoral College. (In 1824, neither Adams nor opponent Andrew Jackson won a majority in the Electoral College. The determination was made by the House of Representatives.)

Besides sidestepping a system that can subvert the will of the majority of Americans, the legislation would also change the way presidential campaigns are run, requiring candidates to pay attention to voters everywhere, not just voters from states with a large number of electoral votes.

Five states have enacted legislation committing their states to the compact once a majority of Electoral College votes are represented. They are: Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington. These five states hold 61 electoral votes, or 23 percent of the 270 votes needed for the compact to go into effect.

A recent survey of 800 Rhode Islanders showed that 74 percent of Rhode Islanders are in favor a switching from the current system with the Electoral College to one that elects the president directly by the popular vote. The legislation is supported by Common Cause and FairVote, among other organizations.

The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives, where companion legislation has been introduced by Representative Donald J. Lally, Jr. (D – Dist. 33, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown).