A month ago, we told you about the National Popular Vote bill when it cleared the Colorado Senate on a party-line vote. Only Democrats supported the measure to give the state’s Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote; we said then that it might as well have been called the Hillary Clinton Won In 2016 And You Know It Act. It is not that it’s bad policy so much as poor form – but it is hard to say where one leaves off and the other begins.
We have heard much more about National Popular Vote since, from Democrats who say the Electoral College – a part of the Constitution – must be abolished to make America safe for democracy and from Republicans, and from Republicans who are sure Democrats are pulling a fast one, trying to make the U.S. safe from democracy (and also from Republicans).
They are both wrong about what the measure does and right about how it looks now.
The bill recently passed the state House 34-29. Gov. Jared Polis has said he will sign it, which would put this national initiative at 181 votes of the 270 needed to make the Electoral College as relevant as an appendix or ornamental shrubbery.
Not every Democratic representative voted for it in the Colorado House, although every Republican voted against it.
Rep. Barbara McLachlan was one of the blue nays. The bill passed despite her vote, but it still took courage for her to stand up to pressure groups such as Indivisible, the national organization formed to resist President Donald Trump after the 2016 election – as it says, to “save American democracy.”
Indivisible Durango, the chapter in McLachlan’s district, issued a “call to action” on the National Popular Vote initiative in February, urging its followers to “ask Barbara for her vote!” It was important, the Durango group said, because “The Electoral College has proven vulnerable to 21st century election tampering. With it, national elections are swung with the micro-targeted persuasion of a small number of people, using polling data and social media – dangerous even without the involvement of foreign governments. Two of the last five presidential elections have gone against the national vote; that’s how gamed it’s become.”
This is both alarming and idealistic.
The ability of actors, foreign or domestic, to influence our votes does not depend on how we tally. Speaking of a gamed system, like a rigged system, quickly leads to conspiracy theories.
The message about the insecurity of our elections was one that Jena Griswold, a Democrat, also carried, in her successful bid to unseat Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, last November. Yet Colorado’s elections may be the nation’s most secure. Griswold is a sidelines backer of National Popular Vote in Colorado.
McLachlan had a different view, which she laid out in the Herald last weekend (“Why I was a no vote on that bill,” March 2). Besides applauding McLachlan’s backbone on this, we also note that she was asking for more discussion.
National Popular Vote has had bipartisan support in the past. A part of the new discussion must be recruiting bipartisan support for it in Colorado now. Mesa County commissioner Rose Pugliese and Monument Mayor Don Wilson already have filed a petition to put this question on the 2020 state ballot, which is where we think it belongs – in the open, where arguments could be advanced, scare tactics countered and neither party should believe the other is pulling a fast one.
In the bigger picture, if the Constitution no longer suits the modern demands of democracy, if its weighted forms have become obstacles to lofty if partisan goals, and we could rouse Thomas Jefferson from his two centuries’ slumber, that old radical would say this is precisely why the Constitution contains its own remedy – not in gamesmanship and work-arounds, but by amendment.
He also will be disappointed to discover that each succeeding generation has not already changed it to better suit itself.