Torpedo the Electoral College? Colorado Votes on First Shot

By Peirce, Neal | Nation's Cities Weekly, October 4, 2004 | Go to article overview

Torpedo the Electoral College? Colorado Votes on First Shot


Peirce, Neal, Nation's Cities Weekly


DENVER -- The tattered Electoral College method of choosing a president--the system that made George Bush president even when Al Gore won 539,893 more votes--may get a startling jolt here on Election Day.

An initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot would amend Colorado's Constitution, effective immediately, to scrap the winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes that 48 states now use. Instead, Colorado's nine electoral votes would be divided to reflect each candidate's share of the popular vote (rounded off to the closest electoral vote).

If the initiative passes, John Kerry would be likely to get at least four Colorado electoral votes, even if Bush "carries" the state. In an election as close as 2000, when Bush won the national electoral count by a single vote, the Colorado measure could decide the next president.

But even if that doesn't occur, passage of the Colorado initiative--which now leads in the polls--could have a dramatic impact on American politics.

Why? Suddenly there's a way to achieve more fairness--to assure everyone's vote counts--without waiting for a partisanly divided Congress and equally partisan state legislatures to adopt a constitutional amendment that eliminates the Electoral College altogether.

The harsh fact is that the winner-take-all system of casting each state's electoral vote for president effectively disenfranchises every voter in the state who supports the losing candidate. As Texas A&M political scientist George C. Edwards III notes in his newly published book, "Why The Electoral College Is Bad For America" (Yale University Press):

"Nearly 3 million people voted for Al Gore for president in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. However, because George W. Bush won 537 more votes than Gore, all of Florida's electoral votes went to him.... In effect, the system gives the votes of the people who voted against the winner to the winner."

The purloining of popular votes may have been palatable in the early 19th century, when ideas of Americans' full democratic voting rights were still unformed. But Gallup surveys over the last half-century show Americans consistently and decisively reject the entire Electoral College setup and endorse direct popular vote of the president.

Reform, though, has been stymied by small states or large states, conservatives or liberals, all claiming they'd lose clout if the Electoral College were deep-sixed. A new national system seems especially unlikely now as "red state America"--Republican and small-state--identifies any move to change as a repudiation of George W. Bush's election in 2000.

So we're left with the spectacle of candidates spending virtually all their time and budgets in a handful of close "battlefield" states that may. …

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