Colorado House Democrats on Tuesday pushed a controversial measure through committee that would pledge the state’s nine Electoral College votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.
But that party-line approval from the House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs only came after hours of testimony.
America is no longer the country it once was, many proponents said.
“Women vote, slavery has been abolished, public education is nationwide and information is instantaneous,” said Sylvia Bernstein of Boulder, one of many supporters who testified Tuesday. “It is time to allow Coloradans to directly vote for a president.”
The move would allow each vote cast nationally to be counted equally, supporters say.
But opponents say the move would abdicate Colorado’s electoral votes to major metropolitan areas.
Jeff Hays, chair of the Colorado Republican Party, has said the the agreement with other states behind the measure is unconstitutional, could splinter an already-fractured country and would lessen the value of Colorado’s votes.
Robert Hardaway, a law professor at the University of Denver, said the very concept of a national popular vote is a farce.
“We have no national popular vote; we leave it up to the newspapers and they differ,” Hardaway said.
Regardless of the opposition, the committee passed the measure — originally proposed by Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette — to the House floor for a vote. There it is sponsored by Reps. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Emily Sirota, D-Denver. The Senate approved the proposal earlier this month after several hours-long hearings.
So far, the measure has been carried by Democrats; Gov. Jared Polis has said he supports the measure as well.
“It’s not new and it hasn’t always been partisan,” Arndt said of the bill. “I’m sorry it feels partisan now.”
Many Republicans have taken the measure as a sharp rebuke of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, in which he won more than the 270 electoral votes needed for the presidency, but not the national popular vote.
The proposal has also dredged up sour feelings towards former-President George W. Bush’s election in 2000, in which the same scenario played out.
One woman, Joan Poston, noted that she was the losing Republican candidate in the 2018 race for Colorado’s House District 23, which was won by the committee’s chair, incumbent Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood.
Poston said she wasn’t disenfranchised by losing the election and that the voters’ voices were all heard.
“But I believe that if we do a national popular vote, I would become a disenfranchised voter,” Poston said. The state would be “losing out if we entered this compact, and I really do not want my vote taken away from me.”
The issue at hand for many is the possibility that Colorado’s nine electoral votes could be pledged to a candidate that did not win the majority of votes within the state.
In addition, Poston argued that because of their large populations, states like Texas, California, Florida and New York would wield more influence because the number of votes they offer would be more attractive to candidates than that of lesser-populated states like Colorado.
But another witness, who identified herself as Amanda Gonzalez, said using the national popular vote “perverts the national election” and would increase the “sway of big money in politics.”
Gonzalez said that the vast majority of money in the 2016 election was spent in just a dozen states.
“Big money knows that it can spend where it counts, and where it counts is not everywhere,” she said. “Voters should have their voice heard and it should be given equal weight.”
Another woman, Linda Petrie Bunch, tried to shift away from the partisan lines that have followed the measure through Colorado. In many states the same pact has been passed with Republican support, she said.
If the Senate approves the measure and it’s signed into law by Polis, the pact would only come into effect once enough states join to total 270 electoral votes.
Colorado is one of seven states expected to join the pact this year, proponents have said, but it’s unlikely it would take effect before the 2020 election.
Opponents expect a legal challenge.
Hardaway said the proposal is, on its face, unconstitutional. The states aren’t allowed to enter into compacts without the approval of Congress, he said.
One committee member, Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Eaton, motioned to subpoena the state’s attorney general to see how the measure meshes with the state Constitution, but that motion was shot down by the Democrats.
Arndt and Sirota, who also sits on the committee, argued that the proposal is certainly constitutional, and that states are allowed to apportion their electoral votes however the Legislature decides.
The committee also shot down two amendments from Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs — the first to make the pact’s enactment contingent on congressional approval, and the second to move the measure to a vote of the people. Both amendments were shot down by the committee’s Democrats and supported by Williams’ fellow Republicans.
While the national popular vote bill passed the House committee, two other bills perished. The first, proposed by Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Ault, would allow religiously based adoption and foster-care agencies to stop same-sex couples from adopting.
The second, proposed by Republican Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, would have required voters to provide proof of citizenship if they were registering to vote within 22 days of an election.
The national popular vote bill could be heard on the House floor for a vote on Wednesday at the earliest.