With 2 Weeks Left in Session, Key House Dems Divided on National Popular Vote
Following more than a week of counting votes, national popular vote supporters haven’t managed to wrangle the support needed for a floor debate in the House, where the speaker personally opposes the bill.
“I think we are far enough off it that it’s going to be difficult in the last two weeks of the session to get us where we need to be,” Rep. Ed Jutila, a proponent of the bill, said Tuesday.
Jutila, co-chairman of Government Administration and Elections Committee, and other supporters have been measuring support among their colleagues for a proposal to join other states in casting Connecticut’s Electoral College votes in favor of the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationally.
Supporters in the General Assembly raise the bill nearly every year. So far they have been unsuccessful in getting it signed into law. Lawmakers in the House approved the bill in 2009, but the Senate did not act on it that year.
This year, proponents were encouraged by the public support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who issued a press release about it in February.
“All Americans deserve to have their votes counted equally for the highest office in the country,” Malloy said. “. . . The candidate who wins the most votes should be president.”
But this year’s bill is on the House calendar — five years after that chamber passed the legislation — and it’s not clear how much support for it remains. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey supported the bill in 2009, but it failed to get through the Senate that year.
Sharkey now has reservations about the feasibility of the compact, and he expressed his concerns to members of his caucus during a meeting on the bill about two weeks ago. Although the speaker has said he would allow the bill to be raised if enough House Democrats wanted it passed, Jutila said Sharkey’s opinion on the issue has cooled support among lawmakers who did not previously have firm positions on the issue.
“I think it makes a difference. The speaker’s been very clear that he’s perfectly willing to have the bill brought out for a debate and for a vote,” Jutila said. “The problem is, for some people who may not be passionate about the issue one way or the other, the fact that the speaker has concerns carries a lot of weight for them.”
On Tuesday, Sharkey resisted the suggestion his opposition has swayed members of his caucus away from supporting the bill.
“This is one of those things I really don’t want to be asserting my position as speaker on anyone,” he said. “No one should feel any pressure to support my position just because I’m the speaker.”
Sharkey said he has concerns about the National Popular Vote Compact. The idea sounds good on paper but would be difficult to implement, he said. Some scenarios, like the possibility of a huge disparity between Connecticut’s results and the national vote, would put tremendous pressure on state electors to break the compact, he said.
“When you start opening that up, I think you’re inviting havoc and constitutional challenges that I’m not sure we’re prepared to take on,” he said.
Sharkey said he feels that, like him, some House Democrats have come to think of the issue differently as they’ve spent more time with it over the years.
“My interpretation of what’s happening is folks are diving into it a little bit deeper to understand, not just what appears on its face to be a great idea, but also thinking about some of the deeper consequences of what practically can happen if it’s implemented,” he said.
However, some proponents are convinced there’s enough support among House lawmakers to pass the bill. Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said he believed that if the legislation was called for a vote Tuesday, a majority would approve it. But he said it does not seem to be a pressing issue for many people this year.
“It’s really a question of time at that point. How much time do you want to allocate to an issue people aren’t fired up about? I think a lot of people are in the middle on this,” Lesser said.
Sharkey said support for the concept has declined, adding that this year’s head count among House Democrats was not as close as a similar informal tally of lawmakers conducted last year.
Still, Lesser and Jutila both expressed interest in raising the concept again next year during a longer session if they are re-elected.
“If I’m back next year, I’m not giving up on it. I really believe in it. I think we should do it for the good of our nation. So I’ll keep working the issue,” Jutila said.
This year’s bill has been on the House calendar since March 26.
Although Connecticut now appears unlikely to pass the bill, there has been some movement on the national compact recently. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation making his state the 10th, along with Washington, D.C., to agree to cast its electoral votes with the popular vote.
New York’s 29 electoral votes brings the compact to a total 165 votes. The compact requires a commitment of 270 electoral votes in order to become effective.