Article: August 25, 2004- by David Leip
Recently, the Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson recently certified that the ballot initiative, Amendment 36 to the Colorado Constitution, to change the method of choosing Presidential Electors from the "Winner-take-all" system to a proportional system based on popular vote had a sufficient number of signatures to be sent to the voters on November 2, 2004. The proposed amendment includes a subsection that specifically states that the new method of allocating electors applies to the 2004 Presidential Election.
Currently, Colorado chooses its presidential electors in the same manner as 48 other states and the District of Columbia - using the winner-take-all method.
from the Colorado State Constitution:
Schedule Section 20. Presidential electors after 1876. The general assembly
shall provide that after the year eighteen hundred and seventy-six the
electors of the electoral college shall be chosen by direct vote of the people.
This is actually a rather vague description. Generally, in a Winner-Take-All popular-vote method, a slate of Electors is pledged to each Presidential/ Vice-Presidential ticket (the Electors' names may or may not appear on the ballot). The slate of Electors pledged to the ticket having received the plurality of votes state-wide are chosen.
The new wording, based on the proposed amendment, is: THE TOTAL NUMBER OF ELECTORAL VOTES TO WHICH COLORADO IS ENTITLED SHALL BE DIVIDED AMONG THE PRESIDENTIAL TICKETS ON THE GENERAL ELECTION BALLOT, BASED UPON THE POPULAR PROPORTIONAL SHARE OF THE TOTAL STATEWIDE BALLOTS CAST FOR EACH PRESIDENTIAL TICKET, SUBJECT TO SUBSECTIONS (3) AND (4) OF THIS SECTION. EACH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTOR SHALL VOTE FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND, BY SEPARATE BALLOT, VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ON THE PRESIDENTIAL TICKET OF THE POLITICAL PARTY OR POLITICAL ORGANIZATION THAT NOMINATED THAT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTOR.
Methodology summary from sections (3) and (4): Electors are allocated in whole numbers only. The percentage of vote cast for each ticket is multiplied by the total number of available electors and rounded to the nearest whole number. If the sum of the total electors allocated is greater than the number available to be appointed, then the total electoral votes for the candidate having received the fewest number of ballots (that received at least one electoral vote) is reduced by one. If the sum of the total electors allocated is less than the total number of available electors, the Presidential Ticket receiving the greatest number of ballots is granted the remaining unallocated electors. Additional clarifications are included in the section with regard to ties, recounts, etc.If this measure were in effect for the 2000 election, the results would be:
|Candidate||Total Votes||Vote %||EV*%||Rounded EV|
Since the total of allocated electors is seven and the total available is eight, one additional elector is awarded to Bush, for a final tally of Bush 5, Gore 3. Under this hypothetical scenario, Gore wins the election with 271 Electoral Votes.
The Colorado Consitution reserves to the people the right to act in place of the state legislature. This clause gives the people of Colorado the ability to decide how electors are chosen as Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution states Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors ...
The initiative goes further, including subsection 5 (methodology for recounts of votes for each the ballot initiative and Presidential Electors), subsection 6 (election certifications of each the ballot initiative and Presidential Electors), subsection 7 (granting the Secretary of State the power to determine, by lot, which Presidential Electors are nominated from Presidential Tickets that qualify for at least on electoral vote), subsection 8 (Supreme Court original jurisdiction for the adjudication of all contests concerning Presidential Electors), subsection 9 (effectivity date of November 3, 2004), subsection 10 ("This section shall be liberally construed to achieve popular proportional allocation of Presidential Electors at the 2004 General Election") and subsection 11 (stating that the "general Assembly may enact legislation to change them anner of selecting Presidential Electors or any of the Procedures related thereto" - seemingly granting the legilature the ability to undo this amendment).
Pros & Cons
To my knowledge, this methodology for choosing Presidential Electors has no precedent. There are several pros and cons to this method:
- Pro: It could eliminate the need for a controversial recount for close state-wide elections (e.g. the Florida result in 2000 would not likely have been contested because the result would have split 13 Electoral Votes for Bush and 12 for Gore). However, a Con of this approach is the possibility of many recounts nationwide in multiple states over a few electoral votes may occur if the result is close nation-wide.
- Pro: It allocates the electors in a manner that more closely represents the popular vote. This has the appeal of being fair.
- Pro: The method reduces the "wasted vote" syndrome. Today, if a state is not competitive, those citizens casting votes for the minority party in that state are not contributing electorally nation-wide (e.g. Democrats in Utah or Republicans in Maryland). Additionally, minor party candidates have a much greater chance of being awarded Electoral Votes. However, a Con of this is the increased chance of the election being decided by the House of Representatives (due to no candidate receiving a majority of electoral votes).
- Pro: With a proportional system nationwide, there is greater likelihood of candidates visiting and campaigning in states that are not currently competitive. A serious Con: in the case of Colorado, however, is that since this measure only goes into effect in one state, it effectively removes the battleground status of the state. Instead of competing for 9 EVs, the Kerry and Bush would be campaigning for one.
- Pro: A nationwide proportional system reduces (but does not eliminate) the probability of a split verdict between the popular vote and the electoral vote (as was witnessed in 2000).
Another point that could be argued either for or against the proposed change is that winner-take-all method (usually) exaggerates the margin of victory. Typically, a landslide electoral victory can be achieved with a simple majority in the popular vote, giving the impression of a mandate and national unity. For example, in 1984 Ronald Reagan won 58.8% of the popular vote, but 97.6% of the Electoral Vote. Likewise Franklin Roosevelt won 57.4% of the popular vote in 1932, but 88.9% of the Electoral Vote.
Overall, I think the idea of choosing Presidential Electors proportional to a candidates' performance in the popular vote is interesting, but for Colorado to enact the method on its own will essentially eliminate any influence the state currently has on the campaign.
The Method Applied to 2000
If the proposed Colorado method of allocating Presidential Electors is applied to all states in the 2000 Election, the Electoral Vote count is much closer to the popular vote and yields no electoral majority:
|Candidate||Popular Vote||%Pop Vote||Elec Vote||%Elec Vote|
Rounding Error bonus electors (as described in the method above) are granted to Gore in California, Illinois, Michigan, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Mexico, Iowa, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Bonus electors are awarded to Bush in Florida, Kansas, Utah, and Colorado. Nader loses one elector in Minnesota.
The result does not account for the abstention in the District of Columbia.
Since the Republicans controlled the majority of state delegations in the House of Representatives (109th congress), its a good bet that the parties would have fought over Florida for the one elector in an attempt to give Gore a majority in the Electoral College. Gore wins the bonus electors in most of the close states (NM, IA, OR, WI) and Bush has only four bonus electors (in KS, UT, CO, and FL). The next closest chance for Gore to gain a vote is Colorado where Gore requires an increase of 1.36 percentage points (about 23,000 votes). The election likely would have been decided by the House of Representatives in January of 2001. See the tables below for anaylsis details.
Election Results Table
|District of Columbia||3||3||0||0||171,923||85.16%||18,073||8.95%||10,576||5.24%|
Electoral Vote Calculation Table
|Proportional EV||Rounded EV||Bonus EV|
|Elec Vote||EV D||EV R||EV G||EV D||EV R||EV G||B D||B R||B G|
|District of Columbia||3||2.55||0.27||0.16||3||0||0||0||0||0|