Following Donald Trump’s 2016 victory over an opponent who won 3 million more votes, Colorado’s Democrat-controlled Legislature is fast-tracking legislation to join other states in picking the president based on the national popular vote.
The House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee sent the bill to the full House on a 6-3 party line vote late Tuesday. Republicans fiercely oppose the bill , which has cleared Colorado’s Senate. They argue it subverts an Electoral College that the Founding Fathers created to ensure smaller states don’t get trampled when it comes to choosing the president.
Colorado would join 11 states and the District of Columbia in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The campaign was launched after Democrat Al Gore lost the 2000 election to Republican George W. Bush despite winning more votes.
Currently, citizens voting for president are choosing electors from the political parties. The college has 538 electors, corresponding to the number of seats held by states in the U.S. Senate and House, plus three votes allotted to the District of Columbia.
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The interstate compact would go into effect once it has enough states with a collective 270 electoral votes — the number needed to elect a president. Compact members, including giants California (55 electoral votes) and New York (29), currently have 172 electors. Colorado, with nine, would give it 181.
Electors from compact states would pool their votes for the national popular vote winner — whether or not that candidate won those individual states.
Three other U.S. presidents were elected without winning the most votes: Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888) and John Quincy Adams (1824), who was voted into office by the U.S. House. Adams’ opponent, Andrew Jackson, had more electoral votes but not enough at the time to win outright.
“It’s not new, and it hasn’t always been partisan,” said Rep. Jeni Arndt, a co-sponsor of the bill with Rep. Emily Sirota and Sen. Mike Foote. She noted eight past chairs of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which represents state lawmakers, have endorsed the initiative.
“We actually see this as a constitutionally conservative approach,” Sirota said. “This bill is about making sure every vote is equal and matters.”
Also backing the initiative was Ray Haynes, a former GOP California state lawmaker and an ex-national chair of the Exchange Council. Haynes, a consultant to advocacy group National Popular Vote, argued the U.S. Constitution empowers the states to choose how they wish to elect a president.
The bill had sparked fierce debate in the Senate.
“I don’t want to diminish our constituents’ voices,” Democratic Sen. Jessie Danielson said. “They’re frustrated with the current system that’s holding their voice back.”
“Why do we want to cede our voting power to the national popular vote? To what California says? To what New York says?” countered Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg. “The current system represents rural parts of the country well.”
Fellow Republican Bob Gardner argues it’s dangerous to undermine a process first adopted at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 so smaller states could “avoid being overwhelmed in their power and sovereignty.”
“Our state government is sovereign. We are not a political subject of the United States of America,” Gardner said. “This bill is antithetical to the very notion of our Constitution.”
Senate Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to refer the issue to Colorado voters.
Republicans also argue the compact would inspire candidates to bypass smaller, rural, and often Republican-leaning states during their campaigns — and add Colorado to “flyover” territory. Advocates say it would force red states like Texas and blue states like California into campaign play.
Hillary Clinton won Colorado and the popular vote in 2016.
Two years later, Colorado Democrats consolidated control of the Legislature and retained the governor’s office. Gov. Jared Polis supports the bill.
Richard Collins, professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado Law School, said the compact would likely survive court challenges in individual states — but is also vulnerable to repeal if political winds shift in individual statehouses.
“To get enough states on board at the same moment is extremely difficult,” Collins said. “It’ll probably pass here, but what most people need to know is that it’s a long shot nationally.”
Other compact members include Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to fix the political leanings of Texas and California.