Monday, August 16, 2004

Colorado Initiative to Divide Its Electoral Votes Proportionately

As John Sanko of The Rocky Mountain News reports, Colorado's Secretary of State certified an initiative for this fall's ballot that would change the way the state's electoral votes are distributed.

Like all states but Maine and Nebraska, Colorado currently uses a system that gives all its electoral votes to the presidential candidate that receives the most votes. Amendment 36, as the initiative is known, would allocate Colorado's nine votes in the Electoral College proportionately to the popular votes a presidential candidate received. The amendment, if successful, would apply to this year's election.

The idea encompassed in Amendment 36 is generally a good thing. Allocating a state's electoral votes proportionately decreases the chance that the interests and political voice of a substantial minority of voters within the state will not be recognized in voting for our nation's highest office.

In other words, whether a Republican/Independent in a traditionally Democratic state like California or a Democrat/Independent in a traditionally Republican state like Texas, your vote would count towards some number of electoral votes. This in turn encourages more voters to go to the polls - minority voters, because their votes are no longer overwhelmed by a simple majority, and majority voters, because minority voters are much more likely to vote.

Opponents to this system point out a couple drawbacks. One the one hand, they argue that the proportionate allocation of a state's electoral votes diminishes that state's importance to presidential candidates by reducing the likely number of electoral votes a candidate might win. As long as other states maintain their winner-take-all approach, this supposedly reduces the amount of attention the candidates give to a state and diminishes a state's influence in regional or national affairs.

A different set of opponents worry that the proposed initiative does not go far enough - the only way to achieve the full promise of democracy in the U.S. is to switch to a system of direct representation where the winner of the popular vote wins the presidency, regardless of the composition of voting by state.

Regardless, the Colorado initiative is a step in the right direction - more Americans would have a more direct role in electing our president than do so now. If more or all states would adopt a similar system, it would likely both re-enfranchise the political voice of millions of unrepresented Americans in those states and also cut back the theoretical reduction in a state's influence when it moves towards a more democratic system.

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