The Colorado Senate State Affairs committee hearing room was filled to capacity on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 15th 2017. Colorado citizens came out in droves to express support for Senate Bill 99—which would have authorized Colorado to become the 12th jurisdiction to join the National Popular Vote (NPV) Interstate Compact.
What is the NPV compact? Essentially, it is an agreement that guarantees the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide will win the race for President of the United States. When a state joins the NPV compact, it agrees that all its electoral votes will be cast in favor of the winner of the national popular vote.
This compact does not eliminate the Electoral College—it simply directs our electors in how to cast those votes. The compact only becomes effective when states representing the majority of the Electoral College—a total of 270 votes—approve it. So far, states with 165 electoral votes have signed onto the agreement.
Unfortunately, Colorado will not be the next state to join the NPV compact—at least not this year. Senate Bill 99 was defeated on a party line vote in committee. But the outpouring of energy and enthusiasm in support of the NPV indicates that it is only a matter of time before the compact goes into effect—whether or not Colorado is part of it.
Why the enthusiasm? There have been five elections in US history where the winner of the Electoral College was not the winner of the popular vote. Two of these took place in the 21st century: George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Both presidents lost the popular vote, but won the number of Electoral College votes needed to secure victory.
The adoption of the NPV compact would eliminate this kind of non-alignment between the declared will of the people at the ballot box, and the weighted and arcane system of the Electoral College.
Those testifying on Senate Bill 99—with the exception of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office—were overwhelmingly in support of NPV. Supporters who testified included students from Bell Middle School in Golden, voting rights advocates from Colorado Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, mathematicians, farmers, and ordinary citizens from as far away as Durango, La Junta and Alamosa.
The message from supporters was clear: every voter in every state across the nation should have an equally weighted vote in every election.
Another problem with our current Electoral College “winner-take-all” system is that candidates do not campaign or seek the votes of most citizens in our country. Candidates ignore states that they are sure they will either win or lose. Only the battleground states get attention, and only those voters have a real chance to be heard. Many witnesses pointed this out, and noted that even though Colorado is currently a battleground state, it might not always be.
Witnesses noted that the members of the Senate committee who were voting on the bill were elected by a popular vote of their constituents. They questioned why that was not an equally good system for electing the President of the United States.
Colorado previously considered joining the NPV compact in 2006, 2007 and 2009. So far, it has failed to pass both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly in the same year. And now we can add 2017 to this list.
However, we remain optimistic of changes to come. The amount of grassroots enthusiasm for the NPV compact is palpable. Close to 50 Coloradans testified in support of Senate Bill 99, and well over 100 attended the committee hearing. It is likely Colorado will have another chance to consider this important democratic reform in the future.
Office: Colorado Common Cause
Issues: Voting and Elections