Colorado’s Electoral Fix
Could Bolster House,
Not American Voters
It’s the heat of the campaign season — and the Electoral College is once again coming under sustained fire.
In one prominent example, The New York Times published a lead editorial calling for the abolishment of the venerable institution, warning that its “arcane rules” could “create havoc if things go wrong.” An amendment still sits before Congress calling for the college’s abolishment, just the latest of more than 700 proposed amendments in America’s history to reform or do away with the Electoral College.
None of the criticism is new, and, due to the massive effort needed to pass a constitutional amendment, there seems little likelihood of any widespread changes. However, more modest changes to the college can be enacted on a state level — and that may be happening in Colorado.
Colorado has a ballot measure on tap for November that, if it passes, could eventually provide a massive jolt to opponents of the Electoral College, and to the Electoral College itself. In many ways, Colorado’s plan is a reversion to an earlier way of looking at the Electoral College — one fraught with many problems.
The proposal in Colorado would change — retroactive to 2004 — how the state allocates its nine electoral votes, from the current winner-take-all format (sometimes called the “unit rule”) to a divided proportional allocation system.
In the near term, this change could benefit Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who, despite a surprisingly strong showing in the Rocky Mountain State, is still the underdog this year. Even if he loses, Kerry could still pick up a few precious electoral votes. Not surprisingly, the state’s Republican leaders, led by Gov. Bill Owens, are vehemently against this amendment.
Publicly, opponents cite the potential loss of power that Colorado would face if it splits its electoral vote. However, there are other reasons to oppose the amendment. If the states all began removing the winner-take-all standard, it would have a major effect on presidential elections — an effect that can be understood by looking back to the 18th century and our first forays into American democracy.
Even after the national history lesson that was Bush v. Gore in 2000, many voters may be surprised to learn some of the basic decisions concerning the Electoral College are made at the state level.
The U.S. Constitution and the courts are silent on how the states choose and allocate their electoral votes. While all but two states use the winner-take-all system, they are not required to do so. In fact, there are no federal requirements as to the selection method for presidential electors at all. If a state legislature so desires, it can choose the electors and prevent the voters from having any say.