DENVER | Following Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory over an opponent who won 3 million more votes, Colorado’s Democrat-controlled Legislature is fast-tracking a bill to join other states in casting presidential electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote.
Republicans fiercely oppose the bill, which has cleared Colorado’s Senate and was being heard by a House committee Tuesday. They argue it subverts an Electoral College that the Founding Fathers created to ensure smaller states don’t get trampled when it comes to choosing a U.S. president.
Colorado would join 11 states and the District of Columbia in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The campaign was launched after Democrat Al Gore lost the 2000 election to Republican George W. Bush despite winning more votes.
Currently, citizens voting for president are choosing electors from the political parties. The college has 538 electors, corresponding to the number of seats held by states in the U.S. Senate and House plus three votes allotted to the District of Columbia.
The interstate compact would go into effect once it has enough states with a collective 270 electoral votes — the number needed to elect a president. Compact members, including giants California (55 electoral votes) and New York (29), currently have 172 electors. Colorado, with nine, would give it 181.
If a presidential candidate won the popular vote but not the electoral vote, electors from compact states would pool their votes for the national popular vote winner — whether or not that candidate won those individual states.
Three other U.S. presidents were elected without winning the most votes: Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888) and John Quincy Adams (1824), who was voted into office by the U.S. House. Adams’ opponent, Andrew Jackson, had more electoral votes but not enough at the time to win outright.
“Every vote in the national popular vote is equal. Every vote matters,” Democratic Mike Foote, the bill’s Senate sponsor, argued during Senate debate.
“I don’t want to diminish our constituents’ voices,” said Democratic Sen. Jessie Danielson. “They’re frustrated with the current system that’s holding their voice back.”
“Why do we want to cede our voting power to the national popular vote? To what California says? To what New York says?” countered Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg. “The current system represents rural parts of the country well.”
Fellow Republican Bob Gardner argues it’s dangerous to undermine a process adopted at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 so smaller states could “avoid being overwhelmed in their power and sovereignty.”
“Our state government is sovereign. We are not a political subject of the United States of America,” Gardner said. “This bill is antithetical to the very notion of our Constitution.”
Senate Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to refer the issue to Colorado voters.
Republicans also argue the compact would inspire candidates to bypass smaller, rural, and often Republican-leaning states during their campaigns — and add Colorado to “flyover” territory. Advocates say it would force blue states like Texas and red states like California into campaign play.
Hillary Clinton, who won Colorado, also won 3 million more votes nationally than Trump in 2016.
Two years later, Colorado Democrats consolidated control of the Legislature and retained the governor’s office. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, supports the bill.
Compact advocates argue the state-inspired movement eliminates the need for a constitutional amendment to change or abolish the Electoral College. Such an amendment would need congressional approval and ratification by 38 states.
Richard Collins, professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado Law School, said the compact would likely survive court challenges in individual states — but is also vulnerable to repeal if political winds shift in individual statehouses.
“To get enough states on board at the same moment is extremely difficult,” Collins said. “It’ll probably pass here, but what most people need to know is that it’s a long shot nationally.”
Other compact members include Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.