Where Do Colorado’s Electoral Votes Go? The State’s Voters Could Become The First To Decide

August 1, 2019
Monument Mayor Don Wilson, who's helping lead the repeal movement, delivers petitions to the Colorado Secretary of State on Thursday.Monument Mayor Don Wilson, who's helping lead the repeal movement, delivers petitions to the Colorado Secretary of State on Thursday.Sam Brasch/CPR News
Monument Mayor Don Wilson, who's helping lead the repeal movement, delivers petitions to the Colorado Secretary of State on Thursday.

Colorado's role in an effort to sidestep the Electoral College appears headed to the state's 2020 ballot.

On Thursday, backers of an effort to pull Colorado out of the National Popular Vote Compact submitted more than 227,198 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. That far surpasses the requirement of about 125,000 valid signatures.

If certified, the referendum would appear before voters in 2020. It could be the first time voters in any state have the chance to weigh in on the compact, which aims to elect the president by popular vote without amending the U.S. Constitution.

"Giving our votes and our voice away to place like California and New York is not in the best interest of Colorado," said Rose Pugliese, a Mesa County Commissioner helping lead the repeal effort.

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill entering Colorado into the compact earlier this year. The law would pledge the state's nine electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, but only if states representing a majority of the Electoral College eventually sign on.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have joined so far, representing 196 electoral votes. The effort needs 270 votes to gain legal force.

The planned referendum could be one more flashpoint in what's already set to be a historic election year.

A March survey by Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling firm, found 34 percent of likely 2020 Colorado voters have a favorable view of the compact, compared to 39 percent who oppose it. And 27 percent had no opinion.

Opponents of the compact argue it threatens Colorado's sovernity in presidential elections. In their view, the Electoral College was designed to protect rural states from the interests of more populous states.

"We're organized as a republic. We're not a direct democracy," said Pugliese. "The Founding Fathers set that up to make sure that large population bases do not overrun smaller populations."

Proponents see such arguments as anti-democratic. They claim the Electoral College undermines the principle of "one person, one vote" by giving people in less populated states disproportionate power in presidential years. For example, each elector in Colorado accounts for three times as many people as an elector across the border in Wyoming.

Jessie Koerner, a spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters of Colorado, said the nonpartisan civic organization plans to fight the repeal effort in 2020. She said a popular vote could elevate the voices of Colorado Republicans as the state trends blue in presidential years.

"Republicans and independents get left behind in the current system," Koerner said. "So what we want is for everyone's voice to count equally."

In March, supporters of the compact registered Colorado National Popular Vote, which exists to fight the potential ballot referendum. The League of Women Voters and Colorado Common Cause are partners of the organization, according to its website.

The effort will also have help from National Popular Vote, the national organization behind the compact. Pat Rosenstiel, a senior consultant with the group, said the referendum could end up helping his cause.

"Colorado could send a signal that its people want a popular vote for president," he said. "That is an opportunity to advance the movement."