Colorado Will Join The National Popular Vote Compact As Voters Approve Proposition 113

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Voting at the Arapahoe County Administration building in Littleton on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. On Monday, police ordered two men, one of whom was armed with a gun and carrying a video camera, away from the building.

Colorado is officially part of the movement to sideline the Electoral College. Preliminary results show voters choosing to keep the state in the National Popular Vote Compact by a margin of 52 to 48.

States that sign on to the National Popular Vote Compact agree to assign their presidential electors to the candidate who gets the most votes nationally, not the winner of the statewide vote. The catch is that it only goes into effect once enough states have joined to ensure that they will control the outcome of the election.

Including Colorado, the compact has been signed by states that collectively represent 196 Electoral College votes, 74 shy of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

The battle over how Colorado will allocate its electoral votes in the future started with a bill in the 2019 legislative session. Democrats pushed hard for the idea that joining the compact would bring more fairness to presidential elections, by giving each vote across the country equal weight. They argue the Electoral College encourages candidates to focus on a handful of swing states — of which Colorado is no longer one — while ignoring most of the country.

The effort to repeal the new law began almost before the ink was dry on the governor’s signature. Two local Republican officials who spearheaded the effort argued a national popular vote’s true impact would be to erase the influence of rural areas in favor of vote-dense cities and suburbs.

Colorado’s constitution gives voters the opportunity to repeal a law through a popular vote, if they can gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot (lawmakers can get around this by including what’s know as a ‘safety clause’ on the bill, language that declares that it must take effect “for the necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety”). It’s a rarely used power; the last time a law was put to the ballot was during the Great Depression nearly 90 years ago. In that case, voters agreed with lawmakers to increase the tax on oleomargarine.

Once the issue was on the ballot, advocates for a national popular vote spent big to try to sway voters. The group Yes On The Popular Vote raised and spent about $4.5 million dollars since registering last July. The majority of that money came from wealthy individuals and left-leaning dark money groups in other states. Opponents of joining the compact, including the state’s Republican Party, characterized the Yes campaign as a California-led effort to dilute Colorado’s significance in the presidential election.

This may be one of the most expensive campaigns in Colorado history to succeed, and yet still potentially have no impact. The fifteen states that have signed on so far are all reliably Democratic in presidential elections. To go into effect, the effort will have to win over lawmakers in more closely divided states, the kinds of places that currently capture most of the campaign attention, where it is likely to prove a much harder sell.