Monument's mayor and a Mesa County commissioner on Thursday fired a shot across the bow of a bill that could change the way Colorado casts its electoral votes for president.
Mayor Don Wilson and Commissioner Rose Pugliese announced that they intend to ask voters to prevent Senate Bill 42 from taking effect via a statewide ballot measure in 2020.
Colorado's House of Representatives approved the bill on a third and final vote Thursday morning, passing it to Gov. Jared Polis, who has said he will sign the measure. The Senate approved the bill last month.
But the measure should go before Colorado voters, not just the General Assembly and the governor, say Wilson and Pugliese, who intend to petition the question onto the state's ballot next year.
If they gather enough signatures and the law has been enacted, the measure would be suspended and its implementation would hinge on a vote in the statewide election.
SB 42 would enter Colorado into a pact with 11 other states and the District of Columbia that pledges each state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. If Colorado were to join, the pact would comprise 179 votes.
As written, the pact wouldn’t come into effect until enough states join to comprise the 270 electoral votes needed for a candidate to win the presidency. Even proponents of the measure have said it’s unlikely that would happen before the 2020 election.
“When the national popular vote bill was introduced, people were literally stopping me on the street, asking how they can get involved,” Pugliese told Colorado Politics. “They don’t want California and New York to be deciding where our Electoral College votes go.”
Her comments echoed those of many other opponents. If the bill is enacted, it’s possible for all of Colorado’s nine votes in the Electoral College to be given to a candidate for whom the majority of Coloradans didn’t vote for.
But proponents say that’s all part of the national popular vote. Even if that were the case, each vote cast in Colorado would still be counted equally among the rest of the country’s votes.
The more she traveled around the state, the more Pugliese said she saw encountered who felt the same way. So she connected with Wilson — who could not immediately be reached for comment — and filed the referendum.
Suspending the bill’s implementation isn’t as important as putting the issue up to a vote of the people, Pugliese said. She acknowledged that the measure likely wouldn’t come into effect before the 2020 election anyway.
Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, also acknowledged that the suspension would have little effect, if any. But she does oppose the referendum, she said.
Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, who proposed SB 42, said he hadn’t yet heard of the filing and, as such, couldn’t offer comment. The bill’s third co-sponsor, Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Alongside the bill’s sponsors, the measure has received strong support from the Democratic caucus — although six Democratic representatives voted against it Thursday — and push-back from Republicans.
But Sirota, Foote and Arndt have maintained that in the other states where the measure was passed, about a third of the supporting legislators were Republicans. It’s not meant to be a partisan issue, they say, though many in the GOP do see the measure as a direct attack on President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, in which he did not win the national popular vote.
To that end, Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, proposed an amendment Wednesday night, which would have renamed the measure the “WE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY HATE DONALD TRUMP ACT OF 2019.” That amendment was soundly defeated.
Additional amendments have been proposed throughout the process that would have also referred the measure to a vote of Coloradans, but Democrats shot those measures down.
Pugliese, however, said it’s not about political parties. Coloradans need to understand what’s being proposed, and only then will the majority of them oppose the change, she said.
“I don’t see it as a partisan issue, it’s a people of Colorado issue,” Pugliese said. “It’s just an issue that needs to be brought forward for the people to decide.”
First the bill must be signed into law by Polis; then the Secretary of State’s Office must certify the petition language, Pugliese said.
Then, Pugliese and Wilson must collect nearly 125,000 signatures to earn a spot on the 2020 ballot.
Those signatures would be due to the Secretary of State's Office within 90 days of the General Assembly's adjournment, said office representative Serena Woods.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold has spoken in favor of the bill. Regarding the referendum, she would "follow and execute the law as required," Woods said.
Although the number of statewide signatures needed is substantial, Pugliese said she’s not nervous about the task.
“The outpouring of support I’ve received in just a couple of hours makes me very confident that we’ll get the number of signatures needed to put this on the ballot,” she said.
And then the informational campaign begins to convince Coloradans to shoot the issue down, Pugliese said.
The campaign might not be so difficult, said Robert Hardaway, a law professor at the University of Denver who has written several books on the Electoral College and opposes the measure.
“I’d like to see it happen,” Hardaway said of the referendum. “It would bring the whole issue to a wide array of voters. Whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, they should be appalled by this bill.”
In addition, the referendum itself would send a message, Hardaway said. While Colorado is one of seven states expected to pass the pact this year, additional states might not be so easy to convince.
“It could raise a red flag for the (national popular vote) lobbyists and the millionaires that are pushing this that, ‘Hey, you can sneak in the back door of the Legislature and get this thing passed on a party-line vote, but once it becomes apparent to the people of an entire state what’s going on, there’s going to be some resistance,’” Hardaway said.
It's unclear when Polis might sign the bill into law, but it won't be this week because he is currently in Washington, D.C., said his press secretary, Laurie Cipriano.