A couple of recent Facebook posts from a couple of liberal friends reminded me that the Founders of our great nation (by the way, we were already great, and continue to be great, regardless of what your hat may say) may have created the longest-lasting written Constitution, but that that remarkable document is not entirely in sync with the 21st century. Two recent proposals to Colorado state legislators serve to remind us that in some areas the Constitution might be at best dated, but that it may be prescient in others.
One proposal would change the manner in which Colorado cast’s presidential ballots in the Electoral College. Currently, and in all the other states – either by law or by tradition – electors to the EC must cast their ballot for the person whom the citizens of Colorado supported. Simply put, whoever “wins” Colorado gets all 9 of the electoral votes.
A second proposal at the national level would convert our national election day into a federal holiday, with the goal of making it easier to vote. Both ideas have some merit, at least at first glance, and some might want our current legislative session to pass these reforms. But do we really want to? It’s complicated.
In a previous column I mused about the role of the Electoral College for those of us here in Colorado and cautioned about being too quick to be rid of what seems to be an 18th century relic in a modern world. And, as I noted, if we had a direct election of the president, we’d have the person who actually got 3 million more votes than Mr. Trump in the White House today. Had we had that system for our entire history, you’d have had a President Gore in our history, for example. I think we must be careful to avoid fundamental changes to our system of government because we don’t like a particular outcome. The goal is to remember the long game, not just today and tomorrow.
The proposal offered in our state legislature, as I understand it, would make it a state law that the electors of Colorado (the people who gather in the December after a presidential election to cast their electoral college votes) would be required by law to vote for the candidate who won the national popular vote. This feels good and would seem to be a positive. Heck, it would have given us a different current president and two different Supreme Court members, but we need to be careful about governance by what “feels good.” It makes a great deal of sense for citizens in, say, New York and California to support such a law, but it’s not at all clear that this would be good for Colorado and other less-populous states in the future.
The idea of making election day a holiday has more merit, but is also not without cost, although the cost here is a more literal cost. Companies being required to give their employees paid time off to vote would be burdensome, especially to smaller businesses. That said, if there is a good reason to give people time off, wouldn’t taking part in a free and fair election be pretty high up the list of good things to do?
You’ve likely heard a version of the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Keep that in mind when you hear that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the idea a “power grab” by the Democrats. Stay with me on this one, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. McConnell seems to be arguing that if we make it easier to vote, the American people may, I guess, “grab” power by voting in record numbers to elect candidates of their choice. I’m pretty much in favor of the voting public “grabbing” such power. McConnell’s comments serve to remind us that this current toxic GOP leadership isn’t really interested in advancing democracy as much as it is obsessed with keeping power, but that’s for another, angrier, column.
And so, I find myself hoping our state and national legislators would support the national holiday plan, but would, at least for now, set aside any fundamental rejiggering of the Electoral College. Such changes, when made too rapidly and without sufficient thought and maturation, may render our electoral system worse off in the long run.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.