If Colorado voters approve Proposition 113, a compact of U.S. states will be one step closer to electing presidents with the national popular vote.
So far, states from Hawaii to Vermont and Washington, D.C. have opted to establish a popular vote system for presidential races. The reform would become the law of the land if voters in states totaling 270 electoral college votes all agree.
The effort has won 196 electoral college votes. A “yes” vote on Prop. 113 would keep Colorado’s nine electoral college votes in that tally after lawmakers approved joining the compact in 2019. A “no” vote would prevent Colorado’s participation in the initiative.
Proponents say this effort would establish a more democratic system for picking presidents, while opponents say it’s a politically-motivated plan to strip power from Colorado voters.
Governor Jared Polis already signed a national popular vote bill into law in 2019 after state lawmakers opted to join the compact in a mostly party-line vote. Democrats largely supported the plan but all Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate opposed it.
At the behest of two Republican politicians, all voters in Colorado now have the chance to decide Colorado’s part in the popular vote effort.
The reform would change the long-standing way voters elect the president and vice president.
Per the U.S. Constitution, a coterie of “electors,” not the general voting population, actually chooses these heads of government. This original arrangement was a compromise between the framers of the Constitution who wanted voters to elect the president directly and others who preferred a vote in Congress.
These electors are required by state laws in Colorado and other states to cast their electoral votes to the candidate that won the popular vote in their state. But electors have sometimes broken from the will of voters in their state.
In the 19th and 21st centuries, a presidential candidate has occasionally lost the national, popular vote but won the electoral college tally — and the presidency. This happened most recently in 2016, when now-President Donald Trump won the electoral college by 77 points but lost the popular vote by about 2 percent to Hillary Clinton. Before that, four presidents were elected in this way, including George W. Bush in 2000.
If the plan reaches the 270-vote finish line, those states would award all of their electoral college votes to the candidate that wins the national popular vote — guaranteeing their election. However, it’s possible that Colorado voters would opt for a candidate that loses the national popular vote. In that case, Colorado’s nine electoral college votes would go to the candidate that lost the state.
Former state senator Mike Foote, Democrat, is a spokesperson for Prop. 113. Foote co-sponsored the 2019 bill to join the interstate compact.
He said the electoral college process has created an undemocratic method of electing presidents. Candidates notoriously ignore states that aren’t contested, focusing instead on a dozen or so “battleground” states that ultimately determine election outcomes. And under the winner-take-all systems in Colorado and all but two states, voters in minority parties don’t have their voices heard, he said.
“If you strip all that away, and you treat the election like any other election, the person with the most votes wins. Period,” Foote said.
Rose Pugliese, a Mesa County Commissioner and a Republican, said the popular vote is a power-grab for Democrats. Pugliese joined with Monument Mayor Don Wilson in 2019 and referred the effort to the voters through a referendum process.
She implored Coloradans to vote down Prop. 113.
“It’s really representative for the nation,” Pugliese said of the electoral college. “I think whoever wins Colorado’s popular vote should be the one that gets our electoral college votes.”
Pugliese said, with the popular vote in place, Colorado would forfeit its status as a “battleground” state — one of the few states enjoying the ears of presidential candidates. She also said voters in big cities would sway elections, although the nation’s largest 20 cities account for just ten percent of the U.S. population.
Foote said largely Democratic cities in California don’t even control that state’s politics, let alone the nation at-large.
And many analyses have Colorado as solidly Democratic territory. Voters handed the state’s electoral votes to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2018, Democrats won both chambers of the state legislature, the Governor’s mansion and all state government offices. Analysts largely expect Democrat Joe Biden to win the state on Election Day.
Foote said these voting issues aren’t partisan. But he said that Republican Coloradans acting in their own self-interest should join the popular vote compact and pit their votes with Republicans in other states.
Otherwise, he said the local GOP risks “becoming irrelevant” as Democratic voters alone decide who gets Colorado’s electoral college votes.
The committee backing a “yes” vote on Prop. 113, Yes on National Popular Vote, pulled in about $1.5 million through Sept. 21 mostly from small donors across Colorado and the U.S., according to state campaign finance reports.
Protect Colorado’s Vote, a group organized by Pugliese to oppose the measure, raked in more than $600,000 as of Sept. 21. That includes a donation of $175,000 from Unite for Colorado, a conservative organization based in Lafayette supporting candidates and causes.