I’ve written before about my contention that Colorado is the new and true bellwether for national politics, and I think that argument is becoming more and more true as we move through the current election season. And so, I want to make a rather bold argument about the upcoming presidential election — it should be fair.
What’s one of the first principles we seek to teach our kids? Be fair! And what do we hear from their weepy faces when a perceived injustice has occurred? “That’s not fair!” Fairness, it seems, should be the goal of, well, lots of things.
So there, I say it boldly, the next president should be picked in a fair election. But what do I mean by fair? Well, the core idea should be, I think, that the person who gets the most votes wins. Pretty radical, eh?
For essentially all elective offices in this country, save one, the person with the most votes gets to be elected. Sure, there are occasional problems and the rare tie every now and then, but mostly in this state and country, if you get the most votes, you get to take office. In my own run for the U.S. Congress way back in 2008, I got fewer votes (lots and lots fewer) than Doug Lamborn, and therefore he got to go back to D.C.
But there is one office for which that is not true, the presidency. The Founding Fathers, in their 18th century wisdom, created an Electoral College to select, as they often called it, the chief magistrate, now known as the president.
But let me offer a non-traditional thought — the Founding Fathers were wrong, and the person who gets the most votes should win. No less than five times in our history, the person for whom the American people cast the most votes did not get to become the president. And you know of the most recent, I suspect.
Your own partisanship likely informs your view as to whether such an outcome is a good thing or a bad thing, but I’d ask you to put on your “American” hat rather than your partisan chapeau. And interestingly, there is a movement that is gaining strength around the country to fix this problem, seeking a national popular vote agreement. Here in Colorado, we’ve seen action on this issue already.
Simply put, the agreement would have states pass laws that declare their Electoral College votes will go to the national popular vote winner. This is absolutely constitutional and when enough states (totaling 270 EC votes) pass the needed legislation, the winner of the election will be the person who got the most votes.
There are various arguments against this idea, but there are powerful rebuttals to every concern. And here’s a fun fact: the 100 biggest cities (Denver checks in at 23, Colorado Springs is about #42) only make up about 1/6th the needed votes. Rural areas equal about 1/6th as well, so the political make up of those areas (urban more Democratic and rural more GOP) balance out. The battle to win will be fought in the suburbs, which trend about 50/50 party-wise. Oh, and the argument that “big states” like California will dominate and “steal our votes?” Well, California has about 10% of the Electoral College, while only having about 6% of the vote. California would actually lose influence under a national popular vote plan. And, my fellow Coloradans, there are 26 states with fewer EC votes than we have, so are New Mexico, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Rhode Island and the rest stealing our votes?
The national popular vote agreement idea has been in the works since 2006, and now 16 states (blue and red), with 196 EC votes, have enacted the plan, so only 74 more EC votes are needed to finally ensure that the person with the most votes wins. And for my conservative friends who think this is some liberal plot, please know that there are many, many conservatives on board. You can find lots more information about such questions and more at nationalpopularvote.com, where you will learn, for example, that the great conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, in the famous Bush v. Gore case, declared states have an absolute right to set up their elections as they wish — important when you remember that we actually elect our presidents in 50 individual state elections.
So why am I ranting on about the national popular vote agreement? I think it is a good idea, and I had lunch not long ago with two of its champions here in Colorado, Mike Foote and Joe Miklosi. Both these gents are passionate about the subject. They both won elective office on their own (personally, I think actually winning is a bit showy, but that’s just me). They did buy my lunch (a chicken salad, very good) as we talked over the idea. I don’t ask you to change your mind based on one column, no matter how well written and compelling (Ed: hey, watch it!), but take a look. It might just be possible to make our elections fairer, which will make them easier to explain to our children.
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.