The year was 2004. Republican consultant Katy Atkinson and I led a campaign to defeat Amendment 36, an initiative to award Colorado’s Electoral College votes proportionally instead of giving all to the presidential candidate carrying the state.
We called our committee, “Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea.” Fortunately, voters shared our assessment and defeated the measure by almost a two-to-one margin.
Katy is now gone, having left us way too early after a battle with brain cancer. I years ago left behind active campaign involvement to serve instead as an analyst, commentator, and every now and then, a truth-teller.
But the issue of Colorado’s participation in the Electoral College has returned, this time in the form of an even more complicated theorem. Just the title of what will appear on ballots come November is quite the mouthful, the Colorado National Popular Vote Interstate Compact Referendum.
This one is hard to reduce to a nutshell, but let me try. A year ago, with the Colorado Capitol under complete Democratic Party control, the legislature passed and Gov. Polis signed a bill to have Colorado join a compact of states pledging their presidential electors to the winner of the national vote regardless of the choice of Colorado voters.
Adding to complexity, the compact takes effect only when states totaling 270 electoral votes sign onto it. Consequently, it has no applicability whatsoever to this year’s presidential race.
Opponents of this scheme then collected sufficient petition signatures to force a statewide vote to repeal the legislation. A “yes” vote will ratify Colorado’s membership in this interstate compact. A “no” vote, such as the one I will cast, will keep Colorado out of this pact and assure that Colorado’s electoral votes continue to go to the candidate who wins Colorado.
The opposition group this year could be dubbed, “Coloradans Against an Even More Convoluted But Still Stupid Idea.”
Clearly, even understandably, this move is a reaction to the fact that two of the last five presidential elections have gone to the candidate who won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote. Including Donald Trump four years ago.
Over the nearly two and a half centuries of our nation’s existence, that has been a rare occurrence, thankfully so.
But the notion that this is somehow grievously wrong is based on a misread of our country’s history. While we have expanded suffrage, sometimes belatedly, and tried to make democratic practice more inclusive, the nation was not created as a pure democracy. It has abundant democratic traditions and structures, but also elements of a republic as well as some of a constitutional democracy given the power assigned to the judiciary.
Our founding was the product of a series of compromises and our federalist system reserves substantial authority to the states. Consider the very title of the country. We are the United States of America; not simply America.
It is best to tread lightly when revamping institutions. But if such an overhaul is required, why start with the Electoral College when the Senate, repository of half of our country’s legislative powers, is a far greater distortion of democratic ideals?
Moreover, if the Electoral College is to be banished, why not engage that discussion and seek to amend the Constitution? Instead, this “interstate compact” smacks of an end-run, a circumvention. It is the lazy man’s work-around to avoid the more rigorous, prescribed process.
This focus on the national popular vote is tantamount to a baseball manager who, upon losing the deciding game of the World Series, opens his post-game remarks by bragging that his team out-hit the opposition. That is all well and good, but is not how the score is kept. In baseball, you count runs. In presidential contests, you count electors.
The misnomer is that we have a single election for president. Rather, we have 51 separate elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton spent her closing days in, among other places, Chicago and New Orleans, trying to run up her popular vote advantage — one in a state already secure in her column; the other in a state completely out of reach. She was chasing hits instead of runs. Knowing full well the rules of the count, perhaps, just perhaps, she would have been better advised to step foot in Wisconsin.
There is no getting around the effect of this Compact, and the impetus behind it, which is to shift power to the coastal population hubs with huge reserves of Democratic voters. It is a partisan maneuver, funded overwhelmingly by out-of-state interests, especially California money.
Democrats running Colorado government had the ability to ram through this legislation. But that doesn’t make it a prudent decision or one they should have pursued. Self-control sometimes calls for eschewing blatant partisanship.
Trump’s election was a revolt among voters, mostly in flyover land masses between the coasts, who had long since grown used to being overlooked but were unwilling to accept being looked down upon. An intricate, underhanded shift to reliance on the national popular vote is a message of further marginalization of their voices. It is an act of dismissal. Per our nation’s title, how does that do anything to further “unite” the “states”?
Imagine 2024 and a race for president between Vice President Kamala Harris and former Governor Nikki Haley. The country knows that it is about to have its first female president. And one of minority heritage, to top it off.
Colorado, consistent with its increasingly blue tilt, votes for Harris. But Haley narrowly prevails in the national popular vote, due to perceived overreach by the Biden-Harris administration and Democrats in Congress. The Electoral College tally is Bush-Gore close with Colorado’s 10 electoral votes (up from nine today) holding sway.
To those Colorado Democrats who passed this interstate compact legislation: Is your commitment to principle so strong that you will sit by while Colorado’s electoral votes tip the election to Haley and the Republicans, contrary to the expressed wishes of the voters of this state?
Didn’t think so.