Politics & Policy

Oblivion and Chaos

Colorado's dangerous electoral move.

Have you ever seen a state commit electoral suicide? It’s happening even as we speak in the state of Colorado and without many people paying attention nationally. It is a development that Coloradoans need to think carefully about and the rest of us should pay special attention to.

When the people of Colorado go to the polls this November, they will be called upon to decide whether or not their state will remain meaningful in future presidential elections or if they will fold their tent and reduce their influence nationally based on an abstraction.

Funded by an out of state millionaire supporter of John Kerry, a campaign has been launched to change the way Colorado distributes its electoral votes. Currently, they follow the practice of all other states except for Maine and Nebraska, and give the winner of the popular vote all nine of their state’s electoral-college votes. The new proposal would have Colorado do what no other state does–distribute their electoral votes proportionally among the candidates.

It sounds perfectly fair, doesn’t it? If Bush gets 55 percent of the vote and Kerry gets 45 percent, why should Bush get all nine of Colorado’s electoral votes? Isn’t it fair that those who voted for the losing candidate feel like their votes have counted? Well, maybe.

What will really happen is that a vital state like Colorado that has traditionally voted Republican but has an increasingly large minority of Hispanic voters who help put the state in play, will become irrelevant on the national scene. If the proposal passes, as polls currently predict it will, the Centennial State will decrease in value and be worth exactly one electoral vote, making it the most unimportant electoral state in the union below even Wyoming and Washington D.C. It will be worth only one vote because in almost every election the Republican and Democrat will finish in a fairly tight race with one getting five electoral votes and the other party receiving four. Never again will Colorado be a battleground for presidential candidates. Never again will any major candidate care about winning the state and its one little electoral vote that would come with victory.

It is the right of Coloradoans to determine how their electoral votes will be counted and if they choose to vote themselves into oblivion, so be it. However, there are important national implications of such a vote that should not be ignored.

This is a scheme funded largely by Democratic activists outside the state who are refusing to make similar recommendations in their own securely Democratic states. If the proposal would have been in effect in 2000, Al Gore would have won the presidency, and so backers of this measure have made sure that if it passes it will be in effect for the 2004 electoral count, securing John Kerry at least four electoral votes even if Bush wins the state.

But there are important national implications beyond partisan concerns. This is a radical proposal that will embolden ideological third-party candidates and could set a dangerous national precedent.

As currently constructed, the winner-take-all system used in 48 states fosters the existence of two broadly based and moderate political parties. Because they cannot win whole states and so cannot hope to win any electoral-college votes, radical third parties are kept in check and our elections have a stabilizing force on our democracy.

If Colorado does accept this proportional vote counting, we could easily imagine a Ralph Nader or other fringe candidate deciding to run a campaign only in the state of Colorado, bringing national money and activists to the state in an effort to attract the backing of the 11.11 percent of the vote needed to get one electoral vote. In an election as close as the 2000 election, can you imagine the power wielded by a third-party candidate who would control the winning electoral-college vote? At best, having no candidate achieving a majority of the electoral-college votes, the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives. At worst, we can imagine a corrupt bargain whereby the third-party candidate with just one electoral vote, could extract some mighty favor from whichever candidate he chose to have his elector vote.

The proposal in Colorado is not only a path to oblivion for that state, but it would also set us on a dangerous path that will encourage and possibly arm radical third parties with the keys to our presidential elections.

Gary L. Gregg is editor of Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College and Considering the Bush Presidency (with Mark Rozell). A faculty associate with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Gregg is also NRO’s official Electoral College dean.


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