Tuesday, October 12, 2004
We are not convinced that the current method of distributing Electoral College votes is the best way to determine our president. That said, Amendment 36 on the Nov. 2 election ballot should be defeated. To borrow a line from John Kerry, it is the wrong amendment in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As it stands, Colorado's nine electoral votes are awarded to the presidential candidate who wins the state. It doesn't matter if the winning candidate only got 40 percent of the vote (as Bill Clinton did in 1992), whoever finishes first gets all nine electoral votes.
Colorado isn't the only state that does this -- 47 other states use a winner-take-all system. The only states that don't are Nebraska and Maine, which award their electoral votes by giving one to each congressional district winner and two to the overall winner. Neither Nebraska nor Maine has ever divided their votes.
Under Amendment 36, Colorado would become the guinea pig for testing changes to the winner-take-all system. The amendment would award electoral votes by percentage. Assuming the first-place finisher earned 55 percent of the overall vote and the runner-up got 45 percent in Colorado, the winner would get five electoral votes and the runner-up would get four.
Here is the rub -- if approved, the amendment would apply to this year's presidential election.
Supporters of the amendment, including the League of Women Voters, say proportional allocation of electoral votes better supports the concept of "one person, one vote." Dividing the electoral votes proportionately more honestly reflects how Colorado voted.
Clearly, Amendment 36 is part of the fallout from the 2000 presidential election, when the nation's popular-vote winner, Al Gore, lost the electoral vote to President Bush. So close was that election that, had Amendment 36 been in place then, Gore could have won.
We understand the frustration with the Electoral College. But we also think that the Electoral College is an important component of selecting a president. Electoral votes ensure that all parts of the country have a voice. Without the Electoral College, states with large populations that consistently tend to vote one particular way -- California, New York and Texas -- would disproportionately influence election outcomes.
If Amendment 36 is approved, Colorado would become irrelevant on the presidential landscape. Because presidential candidates rarely get 60 percent of the vote, the electoral votes most often will be split 5-4, basically leaving just one electoral vote up for grabs. Suddenly, the nation's least populous states -- Wyoming, South Dakota and Delaware, for example -- would wield more influence than Colorado.
The most unnerving aspect of Amendment 36 is that the authors made it applicable to this year's election. That leads us to suspect the amendment has more to do with short-term politics than testing long-term reform. Democrats are the primary supporters of the measure, and it's understandable why. Most polls show Kerry losing a close election to Bush in Colorado. Amendment 36 would ensure that Kerry gets at least four electoral votes here and that Bush gets no more than five -- that's an eight-vote swing that could decide the outcome.
In essence, Amendment 36 would change the rules in the middle of the game. That's wrong.
We would be open to serious reform of the Electoral College system, including proportional distribution. But such reform must be undertaken nationwide, not with a piecemeal, state-by-state approach. Amendment 36 will hurt Colorado and it should be defeated.