Electoral Vote Split
Inquirer Staff Writer
Instead of winner taking
all, the nine votes would be divided based on the popular-vote
Colorado voters will decide this fall whether their
state should become the first to divide its electoral votes for
president according to the popular vote.
The ballot initiative here is the latest attempt in a 200-year
history of efforts to change the way Americans elect their
president. The current Electoral College system can result - as it
did in 2000 - in a president who loses the popular vote but wins the
majority of electoral votes.
The Electoral College system, established in the Constitution,
has been a favorite target for change over the years: More than 700
amendments have been proposed, which is more than on any other
subject. And, with the emergence of the Colorado ballot initiative
as a flash point, a national debate may begin again.
"Activity in the states could trigger demand
nationwide," said Robert Richie, executive director of the
Center for Voting and Democracy, a Washington research organization
that supports the direct election of the president. "If it
passes in Colorado, the Republicans might decide to go after
California" - traditionally a lock for Democratic presidential
candidates - "and that could really get things moving."
Under the Constitution, state legislatures have the power to
decide how their state's presidential electors are chosen. Most
states, including Colorado, have a winner-take-all system. But
Colorado supporters argue that a shift to proportional allocation
would more fairly represent voters' wishes and would encourage more
citizens to vote.
Opponents contend that a divided electoral vote would usually
result in a 5-4 outcome here, making Colorado irrelevant in
Two states, Maine and Nebraska, permit their electoral votes to
be divided. They award two electoral votes to the winning candidate
statewide and the rest (two in Maine, three in Nebraska) to the
winner in each congressional district. In practice, however, neither
state has split its electoral vote since adopting that system (Maine
in 1972, Nebraska in 1991).
In the 2000 presidential election, Democrat Al Gore won the
nationwide popular election by 540,520 votes. Republican George W.
Bush won the Electoral College vote, 271-266, to take the
presidency. The Constitution requires that a candidate win a
majority of the electoral votes to be elected (there are 538
electoral votes, so 270 are necessary to win); otherwise, the
outcome is decided by the House of Representatives.
If Colorado had divided its electoral votes in 2000, when it had
eight votes, it could have changed the outcome of the election.
Colorado would have gone 5-3 for Bush instead of 8-0. That would
have been enough to tip the Electoral College balance in Gore's
favor, 269-268, one shy of victory.
One elector, a Democrat from the District of Columbia, did not
vote, as a protest against the district's lack of representation in
Congress. If the election outcome had hung in the balance and that
disaffected elector had thus decided to vote for the candidate of
his party, Gore would have won, 270-268.
The current ballot initiative in Colorado would take effect for
this year's election, if approved by voters in November.
Katy Atkinson, a Republican political consultant who is helping
to lead the opposition as spokeswoman for Coloradans Against a
Really Stupid Idea, said that Colorado should not "unilaterally
disarm" in the nation's political wars.
"If it were being done nationwide, it wouldn't be quite so
offensive," Atkinson said. "But we'd be the only state
doing things this way. It would leave Colorado with one net
electoral vote, which is not the way you want to go. We'd be less
influential even than Wyoming or Rhode Island."
Julie Brown, director of Make Your Vote Count, the group that
gathered the signatures to put the proposal on the Colorado ballot
this year, said dividing the electoral votes was a "basic issue
of fairness." She dismisses the argument about reduced
relevance, saying Colorado has relatively little clout in
presidential elections now.
"The state rarely gets presidential visits... . They come
here to fund-raise or if they need an advantageous photo op,"
Brown said. "I'm more interested in real clout - how much money
do we get back for schools and roads? And right now, it's not
In a state that leans Republican, officials of that party have
attacked the measure as a ploy to steal votes from Bush. Gov. Bill
Owens, a Republican, and state GOP chairman Ted Halaby have
criticized the initiative. State Sen. Ron Tupa, a Boulder Democrat
who tried unsuccessfully to change Colorado's electoral system in
2001, backs it.
The Colorado initiative comes at a time when the issue seems to
be reemerging as an election issue. The New York Times, in an
editorial last month, called for the abolition of the Electoral
College, denouncing the system as "a ridiculous setup, which
thwarts the will of the majority, distorts presidential campaigning,
and has the potential to produce a true constitutional crisis."
George C. Edwards 3d, a professor at the George Bush School of
Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the
author of Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America, said
that in the early days of the nation, states divided their electoral
votes. As parties developed, the dominant party in each state
realized it could collect more votes in a winner-take-all system,
"The basic motivation was greed on the part of the dominant
party," he said.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that most Americans favor
direct election of the president (most recently, 59 percent in a
December 2000 Gallup poll), while surveys of political scientists
have supported the Electoral College system. Some nonpartisan voter
organizations, including the League of Women Voters, also endorse
The current system "violates the one-person, one-vote
rule," said Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women
Voters. "It's essential to representative government to get it
changed." But she said she was not optimistic about any change
While states are free to change the way they select electors, any
move to do away with the electoral system would require a
constitutional amendment. That typically requires a two-thirds
majority in each house of Congress and approval by three-fourths of
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