There is an old aphorism, popular in politics, that says if you are not at the table you are on the menu. One of the more important ballot measures Coloradans are being asked to consider this year is asking approval to surrender our place at the national table.
Proposition 113 asks for voter acquiescence to consign Colorado to a questionably-legal interstate compact to divert the state’s presidential votes to whomever wins the popular vote on a national basis. That is, if a majority of Coloradans like, and subsequently vote for, say, the Democratic presidential nominee, but the Republican nominee happens to win the popular vote nationally, Colorado’s electoral votes go to the Republican.
It is not explicitly written into the compact that Colorado voters just wait until the day after the election to see how New York, California, Texas, and the Chicago area instruct them to vote, but seeing as how Colorado accounts for just 2% of the national population, that might as well be implied.
The NPV compact Coloradans are being begged by California to sign on to is wrapped up in a lot of flowery language extolling the virtues of one-man-one-vote, Power to the People, and other cliches offering paeons to the democratist absolute; but the reality is that it amounts to nothing more than an attempted end-run around the Constitution. In a country of laws, like the U.S., the Constitution decrees how the president is selected. Those who wish to amend the Constitution are free to do so. See Article V. But here the absolutists know they cannot secure the amendment they wish, because such an amendment couldn’t get by the majority of states that would find themselves disenfranchised by it.
BUT, if they can trick enough of those states into simply agreeing to forfeit their vote to the decision of the most populous states — enough to make up a majority of the electoral votes — then you have successfully zigzagged around the founders and effectively imposed the type of urban centripetal dominance that keeps the fly-overs in their place.
It is this inevitable consequence of 113 that makes it most objectionable — the centralization of political power, through which the national popular vote places the majority of states, like Colorado, at the tender mercies of the population centers.
Consider this: if a plebiscite were to be undertaken in California to authorize a couple billion dollars for water storage in Colorado (to use a germane synecdoche), what percentage of the California popular vote would you predict for the affirmative? Exactly. The measure would be strongly disapproved.
What does this tell us about the practice of democracy in America? It reminds us, once again, why the Constitution pointedly did not establish a democracy. It established a republic that includes some democratic institutions and also some counterweights.
The genius of the electoral college system is in its balance; it serves a levelling function without surrendering to the extremes, and as a check on the iniquities of absolute democracy. The increased urbanization of our society means that every four years cities gain disproportional influence. They do within the electoral system as well – but that influence is tempered by a structural mechanism diffusing it.
It is helpful to look externally; Canada, for instance, suffers under the British parliamentary system, whereby the leader of whatever party wins the most seats in the House of Commons becomes Prime Minister. Those seats are allocated by population, more than 60% of which resides in Ontario and Quebec. The four western provinces combined do not add up to the population of Ontario (most of which is concentrated in the Toronto region.) Put electorally, Ontario holds 121 seats, Quebec 78; there are only 107 seats west of the Ontario border. Ergo, with very few exceptions, federal elections in Canada are pretty much over by the time the polls close in Toronto. How do you think that bodes for western Canada in terms of federal policy? About as well as you would imagine, which has created a festering resentment within the west for decades.
The Electoral College specifically prevents that sort of unbound domination of the hinterlands by the population centers. But if the political theory behind it is too abstract, supporters of 113 might want to consider this: if 113 were in place today, and Donald Trump happened to win the national popular vote this time around, Colorado’s electoral votes would go to him, and there would be nothing that Colorado voters could do about it.