The bill is a partisan issue, some say, a rebuke of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. And many warned of unintended consequences, deepening fractures in an already-divided country.
But the national popular vote is the only true way for each individual ballot cast to be counted equally across the country, proponents say.
The bill was proposed to Colorado’s Senate Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs by its chair, Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette. And the committee passed it, voting along party lines after hours of testimony.
It's part of a nationwide movement. Already 11 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted identical legislation, said Joe Miklosi, founder and CEO of Denver-based bridge consulting, who lobbies on behalf of the issue. Those states amount to 172 electoral votes of the 270 minimum to elect a president.
Colorado is one of seven other states expected to adopt the legislation this year, Miklosi said. Enough states, totaling those 270 votes at a minimum, must also pass the legislation before the agreement is activated.
Already, five presidents have won the 270 electoral votes without also winning the popular vote. Two of those presidents — Trump and George W. Bush — were elected within the last two decades.
The National Popular Vote bill would prevent such a scenario from happening again. That is, if enough other states follow suit.
The bill is about “every vote being equal and every vote mattering in every presidential election, regardless of where the voter lives. Right now, millions of voters across the country cannot say that,” Foote said.
State Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said the bill would also boost voter participation. She’s one of two Democrats sponsoring the bill in the House.
“In order to restore faith in our democracy, everybody needs to not just feel, but be engaged and know their votes count,” Arndt said. “People feel disenfranchised and frustrated, like the government isn’t part of their lives.”
Griswold echoed Foote and Arndt’s sentiments. She also said the agreement would be fairly easy to incorporate into Colorado’s current practices.
But it’s Colorado’s relationship with the other 49 states and D.C. that is concerning, said Tara Ross, who said she’s written multiple books on the Electoral College.
Each state has its own voting laws, and if they’re all combined to use the national popular vote, none of them would mesh, Ross said. Early voter turnout in one state could influence another. Felons can vote in some states and not in others. Even different voting hours from state to state could result in widespread lawsuits, she said.
Of course, Ross acknowledged a rift growing within the country’s voters.
“Let me address the big elephant in the room,” she said. “I’m talking to a group that largely did not vote for Donald Trump.”
But eliminating the Electoral College in “a country as large and diverse as our own,” Ross said, “would undermine our ability to heal.”
The states that have already adopted the agreement — among which are New York, California, Maryland, Vermont and Washington — all leaned Democratic in the last five presidential elections.
However, the notion behind the bill goes back much further. Foote said it can be traced back to 1969.
Arndt said the bill would empower minority voters, say Democrats in heavily Republican states. Currently, those voters might sleep in on Election Day, knowing votes from the opposing political party will drown out their own. But under the agreement, they could rest assured their votes would carry more weight because they would be pooled in with others across the country, she said.
Support for the bill does trend stronger with Democrats, however, Miklosi acknowledged.
Certainly, with a Democratic governor and Democrats controlling Colorado’s House and Senate, the bill has a strong change of passing, Arndt said, though nothing that some Colorado Republicans have backed the bill in the past.
Jeff Hays, president of the Colorado Republican Party, is not one of those Republicans.
“It’s an atrocious idea. An atrocious idea,” he said. “They are absolutely ignorant about what this will do to the relative power of Colorado. It will totally drain us of any impact.”
Depending on the national popular vote to decide a presidential election would place the outcome directly in the hands of the dozen or so largest cities in the country, which lean strongly to the left, Hays said.
“This is diametrically opposed to what the framers (of the Constitution) intended,” he said.
The bill diminishes states rights as well, Hays contends. Foote disagrees.
The 100 most populous cities in the country make up about a sixth of the national population, Miklosi said. The country’s rural populations hold the same number of people and urban centers lean towards Democrats as strongly as rural areas lean towards Republicans, so they even each other out.
The remaining people live in the suburbs, which are split down the middle politically, he said.
But the bill assumes the country’s current two-party system remains constant, said Robert Hardaway, a law professor at the University of Denver. Relying on the national popular vote would split the country into possibly many different factions.
This can be seen in countries around the world, where leaders are elected with just a fraction of the total vote, Hardaway said.
Committee member Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, confirmed with Foote that it would be possible for a majority of Coloradans to vote for one candidate, but for the state’s electoral votes to go to another if that second candidate wins the national popular vote.
“That is a reality,” Arndt said. “They may not be happy with it, but then the real realization is that we’re a state, and I think this will help us come together as a country,” she said.
But to Sonnenberg, that notion was a bridge too far.
“I’m not willing to cede the power of Colorado,” he said. “If Colorado votes for one candidate, to give those votes to another candidate.”
Even though Sonneberg might cast a losing vote — like he did on this bill — that doesn’t mean his vote wasn’t counted, he said.
“Just because I may be on the losing side doesn’t mean that I should adjust how we do things,” he said.