"Group Pushes for Vote Switch"
June 15, 2004:
A well-financed ballot measure would change Colorado's winner-take-all
allocation of electoral votes to one allocated by proportional
The wealthy president of a Brazilian university is bankrolling an initiative
to end Colorado's winner-take-all presidential electoral system.
J. Jorge Klor de Alva is the major donor to The People's Choice for President
- a nonprofit group seeking voters' permission to award Colorado's Electoral
College votes proportionally as a percentage of the statewide popular vote.
For example, a candidate who wins 60 percent at the polls could snag five of
the state's nine electoral votes, leaving the remaining four to a candidate who
wins 40 percent on Election Day.
The group has begun to collect signatures; it needs 67,799 to get the measure
on the ballot.
If approved Nov. 2, the constitutional amendment would affect this year's
choice for president by immediately permitting the division of Colorado
electoral votes. And it would mark the most ambitious Electoral College reform
yet in the nation.
Proponents say it would help avoid outcomes such as the 2000 election, when
the popular vote-winner, Democrat Al Gore, lost the Electoral College vote count
to Republican George W. Bush.
"What we are proposing to do, at least in Colorado, is to come much
closer to the notion of one man, one vote," said Rick Ridder, the
Denver-based Democratic political consultant running the campaign. Klor de Alva,
who Ridder says is an American citizen, and a group of other unnamed donors have
given $150,250 and pledged at least $150,000 more, to the campaign for Colorado
Republicans decry the measure as a Democratic scheme to dilute GOP votes.
"I don't know if it verges on dirty tricks, but it certainly has a bad
odor," said state Republican chairman Ted Halaby.
The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to choose the method
of selecting presidential electors. Most states, including Colorado, have a
winner-take-all system. Two states - Maine and Nebraska - have passed measures
giving only two electoral votes to the overall winner of the state; the rest are
awarded individually based on the winner of the popular vote in each of those
states' congressional districts.
Klor de Alva's group picked Colorado to launch a proportional system because
state case law broadly defines the state legislature to include citizens
participating in a ballot referendum - thereby, in the proponents' view,
fulfilling the U.S. Constitution's requirement. It helps, backers say, that it's
far easier to float ballot issues here.
Another reason is the state's voter registration - 36 percent Republican, 30
percent Democratic and 32 percent independent. The slight GOP lean could mean a
likely win for Bush under Colorado's current system of picking electors. But
Democrat John Kerry could grab several of the state's nine electoral votes if
the reform measure passes.
Republicans oppose the effort.
"They don't feel their candidate is going to be able to win it outright,
and they just want whatever piece of the pie they can get on a pro-rata
basis," Halaby said. "It's part and parcel of this plan by the
Democrats to mislead the public and play games with the political process."
Ridder said Halaby "misses the heart of the matter, which is that the
system needs some tweaking."
Ridder said Klor de Alva - who could not be reached for comment Monday -
lives in California but serves as president of the Faculdade Pitagoras, a
university in Brazil.
He formerly served as president of the University of Phoenix, which touts
itself as the largest private, accredited university in the U.S.
Ridder and Mahoney would not disclose the names of the group's other
contributors, who they said have been involved in several political issues,
including the movement to legalize marijuana use for medical reasons.
Experts on all sides agree that the Electoral College is one of the least
understood institutions in American politics. State Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, a
high school government teacher, said ninth-graders, like many adults, have
trouble accepting an electoral process that picked Bush in 2000 despite the fact
that Gore won more votes.
"People can't understand why we have this kind of system that seems so
outdated and hasn't been reformed in 200 years," said Tupa, who tried
unsuccessfully in the 2001 legislature to change Colorado's electoral system.
Tupa supports the ballot initiative on grounds that it would be "more
fair" and "put Colorado on the map for both political parties."
Critics counter that the measure would render Colorado irrelevant in a
presidential campaign because of the state's narrow margins in voter
registration. A close election could mean the winner takes only one more
electoral vote than the loser.
"For the first state to do this unilaterally, we go way down in
importance," said Dave Kopel, research director at the conservative
Independence Institute in Golden. "Because there's not much to gain ... a
candidate would be nuts to spend time in Colorado."