Should Colorado's Electoral Votes Go To The Winner Of The National Popular Vote? What You Need To Know About Prop. 113
Proposition 113 is the ballot measure that asks whether or not Colorado should be part of the National Popular Vote Compact. State lawmakers added Colorado to the compact last year, but the law was so controversial that a rare referendum was placed on the ballot, allowing voters to make the final call.
If successful, the compact could ensure that the winners of future presidential elections are decided based on whoever got the most votes nationwide. (No matter what, the law would not go into effect this year.) To work, the compact needs 270 electoral delegates. Right now, 15 states, including Colorado and Washington D.C., have joined the compact — enough for 196 delegates.
Some believe that a national popular vote system would ensure that all voters are better represented in the election's outcome. Others worry that such a system would allow larger, coastal states to drown out voters in smaller states.
KUNC's Scott Franz and University of Colorado Boulder professor of law Jennifer Hendricks joined Colorado Edition to break down how the national popular vote works, how Colorado got to this point and what possible impacts the compact would have on Colorado voters. Listen to the conversation above or read the highlights below to learn more.
These highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Erin O'Toole: Scott, can you explain what the national popular vote movement is, and why a certain number of states need to adopt it for it to go into effect?
Scott Franz: The compact is a group of states that think the president should be the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, essentially the winner of the popular vote. And to try and accomplish that, states are joining this compact to try and award their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote.
So right now there are 15 states and the District of Columbia that have joined so far. Colorado was the latest, but because of this referendum, it’s now up to voters to decide whether to keep the state’s membership in it.
O'Toole: Remind us, how did this national popular vote question get on the November ballot? What happened?
Franz: Well, it’s on the November ballot because of how controversial the law was that state lawmakers passed to put us into the compact.
In fact, this is a very unique situation. Colorado residents have not initiated a referendum like this and challenged the decision by their lawmakers since 1932, and that’s when they were fired up about lawmakers putting a nickel tax on Oleo margarine.
So this is an issue that attracted a lot of statewide interest, and hundreds of thousands of residents signed a petition saying that they wanted a say in it, so that’s why it’s on the ballot now.
And just to clarify, this ballot measure, a "yes" vote is to stay in the national popular vote compact?
Franz: Exactly, yes. A "yes" vote essentially approves the decision that state lawmakers had already made to keep us in.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the November election might play out and whether President Trump will accept a peaceful transition of power if he doesn’t win, or how he might challenge the results. In 2016, the presidential election came down to the electoral college, which President Trump won – not the national popular vote, which he lost.
Professor Hendricks, how do you see the post-election period playing out this year? And how would being part of the National Popular Vote compact change that?
Jennifer Hendricks: Well, a couple of things. One key feature of the National Popular Vote compact is that it doesn’t go into effect until enough states have joined it that it can control the outcome of the electoral college, by having enough states that they add up to more than 270 electoral votes.
So regardless of how Colorado votes on whether to join the compact or not in this election, it will not be in effect for this election. Even with Colorado, it only has so far 196 electoral votes, so the compact will not be in effect.
If you compare to 2016, the difference and the question of how is this good for us because it might mean that we vote one way but our electoral votes go another way, that’s the reason why no state wants to do this on their own. A state could just say we believe in popular vote and so we’re going to give our votes to whoever wins the popular vote, but that’s pretty altruistic, right? What Colorado gets out of it, what each state, the idea is what they get out of it is that the other states in the agreement all commit ahead of time that we’ll all support whoever wins the national popular vote. So sometimes that will mean that some states give their electoral votes to someone the states didn’t vote for, but it’s in exchange for the other states agreeing doing the same.
So this is one issue that will not affect the current election, because it will not be in effect, but it’s motivated by the instances like 2016 where the outcome in the Electoral College was different from the popular vote.
Scott Franz, I'd like to get your take on that. Basically, why would candidates bother to campaign here if you know our electors would still have to cast their votes for someone else?
Franz: The fear from opponents of the national popular vote compact is that yeah, candidates would spend their time in the big urban centers, like Los Angeles, New York. Colorado has had, at least in the past, its stature as a swing state.
We can remember Mitt Romney visiting Craig, Colorado in a previous election and some people in Craig might question, ‘under a national popular vote system, what would be the incentive for Mitt Romney to visit Craig, Colorado?’ It doesn't have a big population and is not close to a big media market.
On the other hand, you know the supporters of this really point to the fact that so much of our election right now is focused on the swing states and the ones that do have that role in an election. They get all the campaign money and visits and attention in terms of policy, debates and campaign pledges.
Professor Hendricks, if enough states were to enter into the national popular vote compact, what are some of the potential legal issues that could arise?
Hendricks: The big question is whether Congress has to agree to this compact, which is a constitutional question. There are sort of certain kinds of agreement states can enter into, like water compacts, that kind of thing, others that they're not allowed to do, like the Confederacy. And so there's a question of whether they can really bind themselves this way.
This conversation is from a special episode of KUNC’s Colorado Edition on Sep. 25. You can find the full episode here.