Jennifer Schubert-Akin: Joining interstate voting compact threatens Colorado’s voters’ voice
Voter suppression efforts are alive and well in Colorado.
Governor Jared Polis recently signed a bill to enter Colorado into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Member states agree to transfer their share of electoral college votes in future presidential elections to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. This means that Colorado’s nine electoral college votes would go, not to the presidential candidate who most state voters choose, but to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.
This compact would subsume the will of Colorado voters to the will of the nation and upend nearly 150 years of state precedent. It takes effect if states representing 270 electoral votes — the minimum threshold needed to win the election — commit to it. Twelve states and Washington D.C., which represent 181 electoral votes, have signed on with New Mexico and Delaware expected to follow suit.
This compact is a back-door effort to change the nation’s electoral system from the electoral college to a popular vote. In the wake of the 2016 election, where Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton while receiving 2.9 million fewer votes, some progressives have argued this change is necessary.
This interstate compact is the more politically practical way to achieve this goal because explicitly dumping the electoral college in favor of national popular vote would require a constitutional amendment. While this strategy may sidestep the U.S. Constitution, it could run afoul of the state constitution.
Article 20 of the Colorado Constitution makes clear that the state’s presidential electors “shall be chosen by direct vote of the people.” Surely this refers to Coloradans, not Americans writ large. Colorado’s constitutional voting requirements regarding eligibility, residency and registration would also be counteracted by the voting procedures of other states under such a system.
Even if this reform were constitutional, it would be the wrong move for Colorado. The electoral college balances not only the will of the people but also the will of the different parts of the country.
In a nation as big and varied as the U.S., geographic democracy is vitally important. If national elections were determined by popular vote, candidates could merely focus on the desires of voters in big cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, whose combined metropolitan populations are nearly seven times Colorado’s.
The current system balances geographic and population considerations to ensure that less populated areas like Colorado are not sacrificed to the more populated areas — a phenomenon that happens in many other countries — where the wishes of those in the countryside are ignored for those in the cities.
See the ongoing “Yellow Vest” protests in France, whose president is elected by popular vote, for instance. The political clout of middle America would deteriorate further if such a system were enacted here.
To the extent that presidential candidates ignore the wishes of Colorado voters and their counterparts across the country in order to run up their scores in the big population centers, a national popular vote is far less democratic than the current system. This is the exact opposite of what supporters contend.
They claim that a national popular vote achieves the “majority rule” principle of democracy. Yet it wouldn’t even necessarily do this. Hillary Clinton received just 48% of the popular vote in 2016. Al Gore, who also lost the presidency while winning the popular vote, also did not receive a majority of the vote.
Gov. Polis claims to be an opponent of voter suppression, yet selling out the votes of Coloradans to the coastal elite by entering Colorado into this interstate compact suggests otherwise.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the chairman and CEO of the Steamboat Institute.
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