This op-ed appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera on February 9, 2019.
Every vote should be equal, and matter, in every presidential election no matter where you live. Nobody can credibly say that happens under our current Electoral College system, but that is what would occur under a national popular vote.
If enough states with 270 electoral votes join National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide would unquestionably win the election. Presidential elections would no longer come down to which candidate can best pander to a small slice of voters in a small number of battleground states, but instead to whoever appeals to the most voters in the entire country.
This historically bipartisan idea of “one person, one vote” has widespread support in states big and small. Even a majority of Republicans in Colorado and every other state polled prior to 2016 believed a national popular vote was appropriate. Since our last presidential election, however, Republican support has waned and resistance by some to voting equality has increased.
This is unfortunate, because the winner-take-all allocation of presidential electors currently used in 48 states makes most voters irrelevant. In 2015, former Wisconsin governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker said it best when he remarked, “the nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are.” Voters in the other 38 states did not matter to Gov. Walker, nor to any of the other presidential candidates in 2016.
In a presidential winner-take-all elector allocation system, only 50 percent plus one vote determines for whom all of Colorado’s electoral votes are cast. In 2016, that meant the 1.3 million Coloradans who voted for Hillary Clinton had their votes represented by all of Colorado’s nine electors. The 1.2 million Coloradans who voted for Donald Trump were zeroed out. In 2004, 1.1 million Coloradans voted for George W. Bush but 1 million Coloradans voted for John Kerry. Only the Bush votes mattered, though.
It does not have to be this way. Most states use a winner-take-all system not because of what is written in the Constitution but rather because Thomas Jefferson wanted to capture all of his home state’s electors in 1800 instead of losing one of them during his failed presidential run four years earlier. He convinced Virginia’s legislature to switch to a winner-take-all system. Not to be left out, Massachusetts (President John Adams’ home state) followed suit. A majority of states adopted winner-take-all by our 11th presidential election.
The founders of our country made sure each state had the plenary power to allocate its electors as its legislatures found appropriate. Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution ensures states decide how to choose their own electors. Many systems have historically been used, ranging from legislatures choosing electors to popular votes by congressional districts.
Much has been written about the National Popular Vote bill I am carrying with Reps. Jeni Arndt and Emily Sirota, including a supportive editorial by the Daily Camera. Unfortunately, some mistaken information is circulating.
A recent essay in the Camera, which called the National Popular vote compact “gutless and lazy,” fell short in researching two of its main claims. First, the compact binds states to the national popular vote winner six months before the general election, so the “nightmare scenario” of states withdrawing after a November election but before electors meet is simply wrong. Second, in contrast to the essay’s claim about the unconstitutionality of interstate compacts, United States Supreme Court precedent makes clear interstate compacts about domestic matters do not require Congressional approval — and over 200 agreements exist today.
Vague, unsupported claims of unconstitutionality should not keep Colorado from joining the national popular vote compact. Rather, Colorado voters and all Americans would be well-served by having every vote count equally no matter where the voter lives. Under the current system, once Colorado ceases to be a “battleground state” — perhaps as early as 2020 — we will suffer the same fate as Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah: presidential campaign flyover territory. If Coloradans want to have our voices heard, we should be a part of the national popular vote.
Imagine a time when presidential candidates appeal to voters across the country and compete for votes from rural, suburban and urban areas alike. Envision when a vote for a Democratic candidate in Mississippi, a Republican candidate in Oregon, and any candidate in Ohio is equally sought and equally matters. That is the beauty of the National Popular Vote and why Colorado should join the compact.
State Sen. Mike Foote represents Senate District 17, including Louisville, Lafayette, the Boulder County portions of Longmont and Erie, and parts of unincorporated eastern Boulder County.