Colorado is joining a list of states attempting to overturn the way Americans have selected their presidents for over two centuries.
The Colorado legislature recently passed a bill to join an interstate effort called the “interstate compact” to attempt to sidestep the Electoral College system defined by the Constitution. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, called the Electoral College an “undemocratic relic” and vowed to sign the bill into law.
So far, 12 states representing 172 Electoral College votes have passed the initiative into law. With the addition of Colorado (which has nine votes), that number will rise to 181. They need 270 for the compact to go into effect. It would then undoubtedly be challenged in the courts.
Some major voices on the left were gleeful about the potential change.
A Radical Proposal
While the Constitution, intentionally, gives wide latitude to states to create their own electoral systems, the law passed in Colorado, along with the rest of this effort, would be unprecedented. It would be the first time states potentially outsource their Electoral College votes to the will of the nation as a whole rather than having elections determined by their own voters. The result of this, ironically, could be very undemocratic.
For instance, if the people of Colorado vote overwhelmingly for a Democrat, yet the total popular vote of the nation goes Republican, all of the state’s votes would go to the Republican, essentially overturning the will of the people in Colorado.
The Electoral College is already fairly democratic. Nearly every state switched to direct, democratic elections of electoral votes in the early 19th century, as opposed to selection by state legislatures. What the national popular vote would do is overturn the concept of federalism, which recognizes that states have unique interests that deserve representation in the electoral system. We are not just a nation of individuals but a nation of communities and states.
Recent Elections Show the Importance of the Electoral College
Some have dismissed the Electoral College system as outmoded and unjust. But they are mistaken—the Electoral College system remains highly relevant and necessary today. The 2016 election actually demonstrated that.
In 2016, states that had gone Democratic in presidential politics for a generation flipped to Republican, in large part because of a unique candidate who appealed to their interests. While one candidate capitalized on their support, the other took them for granted and focused elsewhere. The result was a startling upset that demonstrates why the Framers wanted an Electoral College.
Without an Electoral College, candidates could more easily write off certain constituencies located in limited areas. The Electoral College binds those votes up with a larger mass of votes so that in order to win the whole, candidates have to appeal to the interests of more constituents.
Under a popular vote system, candidates could ignore entire localities and focus on driving up votes among their natural supporters.
Many on the left have also complained that the Electoral College gives an undue weight to small states, which, in their minds, are conservative.
It’s true that small states are given a boost because Electoral College votes are based on population and Senate votes. Since every state automatically has two senators, small states do get slightly more weight per their population. But in practice, this ends up benefitting Democrats just as much as Republicans.
In 2018 , for instance, the 10 smallest states sent 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans to the Senate, and the 10 largest states sent 11 Democrats and nine Republicans to the Senate.
This system of electors is not perfect, of course. But it is the best system for a large and diverse country like the United States, as it favors candidates who do the best job of appealing to diverse interests and not just the big population centers.
In fact, while the Founding Fathers disagreed on many things, the Electoral College was one thing that received the widest acceptance, as Alexander Hamilton recorded in Federalist 68:
The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system … which has escaped without severe censure. … I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.