Coloradans face one question with two choices on Nov. 3. Do we give our votes to California, or do we hand them to over to Alabama?
Proposition 113 would tie Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes to the novel concept that the person who gets the most votes wins the election.
That’s how it was when I lost the race for 4-H president in the sixth grade, but that’s not how it is when we elect the president of the United States.
If you think one person equals one vote, you’re not a student of history. Two of our last three presidents received fewer votes than the loser. That’s because some people’s votes count more.
Nearly 3 million fewer Americans voted for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. Think about that. That’s more people than the entire population of 16 states. That’s more than every man, woman, child and nonbinary person in Wyoming and Nebraska combined, and you’d still be short half a million Cornhuskers.
Democrats want new rules. Republicans, as their membership slides, see a benefit in keeping the final decision with the states, more of which are red than blue.
It’s the way we’ve always done it. The Electoral College hails from the powdered wig chapter of American history, said to balance the scales between small and large states.
“The Founding Fathers designed our presidential election system to give every state a voice. No state or region should be able to dominate our national elections,” Rose Pugliese, a former Mesa County commissioner who’s leading the campaign to keep the Electoral College, wrote in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in May. “The Electoral College forces presidential candidates to build a broad coalition of states, preventing regional or ideological niche candidacies from succeeding.
“The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing.”
They settled on the Electoral College, so that states could choose independent “electors” to formally pick the president, supposedly based on the outcome of the state’s popular vote, but they’re not bound by it.
Some delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 thought Congress should pick the president, because they worried poorly informed voters might choose a populist with star power yet be otherwise corrupt and unqualified. Then they kicked around the idea that governors should choose the commander in chief.
Then there was slavery. Northern states only wanted to count free people in awarding electors. The South wanted to count slaves, too, since there were a half a million or so.
A compromise counted slaves as three-fifths a human, while still barring them from voting. Pennsylvania had 10% more voters than Virginia but received 20% fewer Electoral College votes.
“They cobbled together this plan because they couldn’t agree on anything else,” said George C. Edwards, a Texas A&M political science professor emeritus and the editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly.
The impact was immediate and obvious. Virginia’s population was 41% slaves, and the father of the Constitution, James Madison, was a Virginian, as were Washington, Jefferson and Monroe, four of our first five presidents.
Proposition 113 itself is a compromise, a do-over for a decision Democrats in the Legislature made in 2019. Opponents appealed it to the ballot.
State Sen. Mike Foote of Lafayette championed the legislation, Senate Bill 42. He doesn’t buy that candidates and presidents visit more or less based on the Electoral College.
“President Obama visited Colorado 17 times during his first term, ranging from touring wildfire damage in Colorado Springs to hanging out with students on The Hill in Boulder,” he said. “President Trump has visited only twice, once to give a commencement address at the Air Force Academy last year and once to have a ‘thank you for acquitting me’ event for Cory Gardner a week after his impeachment trial in February.
“The presidential candidates themselves know that Colorado is no longer in play, but whether we are a safely blue state or swing state shouldn’t determine how much attention we get from the candidates. The National Popular Vote will make candidates pay attention to voters across the country, because that’s what it would take to win.”
Math, however, dictates that Californians and New Yorkers would have a louder voice than wide-open Wyoming.
The next three states with the most voters, however, are Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. Trump won all three four years ago by a collective 964,382 votes.
Hillary Clinton, however, trounced Trump in New York by more than 1.7 million votes. She swamped Big Orange in California, too, with nearly a 4.7 million-voter advantage. It’s hard to make that up with a coalition of North Dakotas.
Republicans seem to be giving up on turning around states where they’re losing. History changes fast, my pachyderms. Before 1992 California was reliably red, producing Nixon and Reagan in a decade, no less. Before 2008, the GOP nominee took Colorado in eight of the previous nine presidential elections.
What have we now?
We have Alabama. Like Colorado, Alabama has nine Electoral College votes. Its rightward tilt cancels out our leftward lean. The best Colorado Democrats can do is tie Alabama. That’s something to brag about only if it’s college football.
That’s despite 1.8 million more Coloradans, yet we’re shoulder to shoulder with Dixie’s broken heart.
Colorado can think higher in November, beyond pot and mountains.