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Colorado Electoral College Proposal

October 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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TOM BEARDEN: A measure on the ballot in Colorado could conceivably determine who will be the next president. That’s because voters there will decide whether Colorado will become the first state in the nation to allocate its electoral votes based proportionately on the popular vote.

Currently, the vast majority of states have a winner-take-all system. Proponents says the issue is “one person, one vote.”

AD SPOKESMAN: We teach our children that every vote makes a difference. But in 2000, 49 percent of the votes were not counted for president under Colorado’s winner-take- all system. Amendment 36 changes that.

TOM BEARDEN: Opponents say passage would spell political suicide.

AD SPOKESMAN: Amendment 36 is an unprecedented scheme to take away Colorado’s clout by splitting up our electoral college votes. Newspapers across Colorado oppose Amendment 36.

TOM BEARDEN: The initiative is called amendment 36. It would amend the state constitution as of this election to no longer give all of the state’s nine electoral college votes to the candidate who wins a plurality of the popular vote.

For example, under the new system, a candidate who got 40 percent of the votes would receive four electoral votes, while the candidate who received 60 percent would get the remaining five. That would be a substantial change for Colorado, which has delivered all of its electoral votes to the Republican presidential candidate in every election for the last 50 years, with only two exceptions– Bill Clinton in 1992 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

The change would be unprecedented. Maine and Nebraska are the only other states where the winner doesn’t necessarily take all. But those states use a formula based on who wins congressional districts, and, so far, neither state has had to split its vote because one candidate has always won a majority across the state. Rick Ridder is campaign manager of “Make Your Vote Count.”

RICK RIDDER: It’s an opportunity for us to express– we, as Coloradoans– that we want to make our vote count. We want to make each individual have the ability to have an impact on the presidential election.

TOM BEARDEN: Ridder hopes a win in Colorado would begin the process of changing the electoral college system itself.

RICK RIDDER: We are looking not to reform Colorado just for today, but over the long term, to make sure that “one man, one vote” is, in fact, a principle, that it is established in this state from the grassroots, lowest levels of politics right up through the presidency.

SPOKESPERSON: In this list are the brave Democrats who were willing to come out against it.

TOM BEARDEN: Katy Atkinson leads an opposition group called “Coloradoans Against a Really Stupid Idea.”

KATY ATKINSON: I don’t think the public feels as though their vote isn’t counted. I think quite to the contrary. After the experience in 2000 and after the experience in Colorado in 2002, we had a congressional district decided by around 100 votes; I think people started to realize that their vote really does count, that it is, you know, elections can be terribly close.

TOM BEARDEN: Close like the election of 2000, where George Bush defeated al gore by only five electoral college votes. If Amendment 36 had been in place four years ago, Al Gore would have had enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Atkinson thinks passage of Amendment 36 would leave the state without influence in Washington.

KATHY ATKINSON: What we’re concerned about is, first of all, the effect it’s going to have on Colorado during presidential campaigns, but most importantly the effect in between presidential campaigns.

When all things are equal in trying to make decisions like public lands decisions, water decisions, military base closure decisions, all things being equal, if you have to chose between Arizona, that has ten electoral votes in play, and Colorado, that would just have one net electoral vote in play, I think Colorado is going to come out on the losing end of that.

SPOKESMAN: There are those who say that, you know, when they talk about Colorado losing clout, but the real issue here is the clout of the individual. The individual has one thing. They have their vote. And what this does is gives them, the individual, far greater clout than they had before.

TOM BEARDEN: Atkinson believes that what some of the proponents are really seeking is an advantage for John Kerry. Leading Colorado Republicans, including Governor Bill Owens and Senate candidate Pete Coors, have been openly opposed to the amendment while high-ranking Democrats had been silent. But recently on NBC’s Meet the Press, the Democratic candidate for Senate, Ken Salazar, came out against the amendment.

CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Salazar, are you in favor of that Amendment 36?

KEN SALAZAR: No, and I’m the attorney general of the state. I believe that there’s a potential for there to be litigation over it and we’ll just work with it.

CORRESPONDENT: But you oppose it? And you oppose it?

KEN SALAZAR: Yes.

TOM BEARDEN: University of Colorado political science Professor Ken Bickers says if the national election is close and if Amendment 36 passes and applies to this election, a constitutional challenge is inevitable.

KEN BICKERS: This initiative, according to the language of the initiative, would apply in this election. There’s a federal statute that was passed in 1887 which says that the election rules that existed six days before the election hold for the allocation of electors, which would make this not legal.

TOM BEARDEN: As to whether Colorado will be the Florida of 2004– delaying the final election of a president– Bickers says there are a lot of “ifs.”

KEN BICKERS: I think that’s unlikely. I think it’s unlikely because it requires both that it pass and that the presidential election be so close that a difference of five or nine Electoral College votes would make a difference. But this looks to be a very close federal election, presidential election, and I would never have guessed that what happened in Florida four years ago would have happened four years ago in Florida. Unlikely things sometimes happen.