State legislators vote to tweak electoral college

By Joe Hanel
Published April 11th 2006 in The Durango Herald
Colorado became the first state to consider a new plan for popular election of the president on Monday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved it on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Democrats prevailing. It would allow Colorado to enter into a pact with other states to pledge their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who won the national popular vote. A group called National Popular Vote is pushing the idea to legislatures nationwide.

Currently, the president is elected in 51 separate votes in the states and the District of Columbia. The states then appoint electors, who hold the power to choose the president.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election because George W. Bush took the most electoral votes. In 2004, it would have taken just 60,000 Ohio voters to swing the election to John Kerry, despite a large popular vote win by Bush.

The bill by Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, spurred a lively debate on American traditions among the committee's lawyers, professors and history teachers.

"What you are trying to do is change 200 years of custom and practice," said state Sen. Jim Dyer, R-Centennial.

The Constitution's framers thought of themselves as representing states and had no experience in running a national government, said Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver.

"We now have over 200 years of experience in doing that. We have adopted our identity as Americans," Grossman said.

But Republicans argued against reducing the power of states.

"The existence of states is not a historical oddity but a fact of life in the United States," said Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield.

The Constitution, however, starts with the words "We the People," said Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

"Is it the state, or are human beings sovereign as citizens?" Bacon said.

It would take a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College. But proponents of Gordon's bill say Article II Section 1 of the Constitution gives them the power to carry out their plan.

"Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors," for the purpose of electing the president, according to the Constitution.

The compact would not take effect until states with at least 270 electoral votes - the majority - signed on to the deal.

The full Senate will be the next to debate the bill. Gordon is running for secretary of state - the official who oversees elections.