UPDATE: This story has been changed to reflect more complete information on popular referendums in Colorado.
MONUMENT — The idea of Colorado joining a National Popular Vote (NPV) compact with more than a dozen other states doesn’t appear to be quite as popular as supporters may have originally thought.
Senate Bill 19-042 passed out of the House of Representatives last week and now awaits Gov. Jared Polis’s signature. Polis has said previously he would sign the bill.
The idea was thought to have the support of high-ranking Republicans in the state, such as former Congressman Tom Tancredo. Tancredo has since pulled his support for the bill, he said.
Additionally, six Democrats voted no on the bill that some say would take away the decisions of Colorado’s voters and put it in the hands of Californians and voters in large coastal cities instead.
However, the absence of a “safety clause” on the bill opens the door for voters to get the chance to reverse the motion put in place by the legislature via a popular referendum.
The NPV is a compact among states that pledges all an individual state’s Electoral College votes to the winner of an unofficial national popular vote. It requires enough states to sign onto the pledge so that the Electoral votes add up to the 270 needed to elect a president.
Those opposed say it’s unconstitutional because there is no constitutional provision that recognizes a national popular vote. They also say it would minimize the importance of votes cast in Colorado, and other “flyover states.”
Those in support say the current “winner take all” method of awarding Electoral College votes puts the presidential decision making in a handful of swing states — also mostly flyover states they say.
Historically in Colorado, popular referendums — or what could be considered the recall option for unpopular legislative actions — are rare.
In fact, according to Ballotpedia, a non-profit digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections, the last popular referendum to be place on the ballot was more than 85 years ago in 1932 and only 13 in Colorado history, 1912, 1914, 1916, and 1932. Of those 13, 10 legislative actions were repealed and three were upheld.
That could change soon, however, as two lawmakers — one from central Colorado and one from the Western Slope — have filed a petition with the Secretary of State’s office that would ask voters to say no to the National Popular Vote bill.
A referendum is a method that allows voters to decide on an issue that has been referred to them by the Legislature. In Colorado, a popular referendum is one that is initiated by citizens via petition and allows voters to approve or repeal an act of the Legislature.
Some exceptions can trigger the safety clause, which is a statement included at the end of some bills that allows the legislature to prevent a referendum by the people by declaring the act is necessary for the “preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, and appropriations for the support and maintenance of the departments of state and state institutions.”
Because this bill did not fall under those conditions, it did not contain the safety clause, enter Monument Mayor Don Wilson and Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese.
The pair, who knew each other through mutual acquaintances, were talking, Wilson said, and realized their constituents wanted the same thing, despite being on opposite sides of the state. They wanted to make this bill disappear, Wilson said.
Wilson and Pugliese have filed the necessary paperwork with the Secretary of State, and now they await the Governor to sign the bill before they will get their petition back and can begin to collect the roughly 125,000 signatures necessary to get it on the ballot. Wilson said they have a goal of 180,000 signatures to assure they have enough.
Wilson said the outpouring of support has already been overwhelming, adding the vast geographic distance and demographic differences between El Paso and Mesa counties proves this is not a Republican versus Democrat issue.
“This is not a partisan thing,” said Wilson, whose small community abuts Colorado Springs and is more closely aligned with a large-city lifestyle than the rural lifestyles of Mesa County, some 300 miles away. “This is about the independence of Colorado as a state in our union. We look forward to our voters having our say in what goes on in Colorado.”
An issue committee “Coloradans Vote” was registered with the Secretary of State’s office Monday. It outlines its purpose simply as: “Support petition to keep Colorado’s Electoral Votes with Coloradans by opposing SB42.”
Pugliese is listed as the registered agent on the committee. Wilson said a Website will be up and running in the next day or so to begin gathering volunteers and monetary support for the effort, and most importantly educate Colorado voters about the importance of the Electoral College. Complete Colorado will update the story when that site becomes available.
“A lot of people have been reaching out to us to ask when they can get a petition,” Wilson said. “There has already been an outpouring of people, and we want to take as much advantage of that as possible.”
Wilson said he believes supporters of the bill didn’t think they would get the push back they have. In fact, that may be truer than Wilson realizes.
Six Democrats in the House voted no on the bill: Adrienne Benavidez from Adams County; Bri Buentello and Daneya Esgar from Pueblo; Barbara McLachlan from Ouray; Marc Snyder from El Paso County; and Donald Valdez from Alamosa.
Former Republican U.S. Congressman and Colorado State Representative Tom Tancredo once supported a version of a National Popular Vote, but told Complete Colorado he no longer supports the idea.
However, Tancredo’s name still appears on the National Popular Vote’s main Website as endorsing the effort. After Complete Colorado alerted Tancredo to the discrepancy, Tancredo contacted John Koza and asked him to take his name off the NPV national Website. Tancredo forwarded an email chain to Complete Colorado between he and Koza that said Koza would “immediately try to locate any place on our website or elsewhere where your name may be mentioned and remove it.”
Koza leads the national effort. By Monday evening Tancredo’s name had been removed.
“I haven’t been involved for several years,” Tancredo said. “The recent discussion in the state legislature has brought it to mind.”
In a Tweet last week, Tancredo was clear: “I keep getting questions about my “endorsement” of the National Popular Vote bill now in the CO Legislature,” he wrote. “I have never been asked to endorse the bill, nor would I.”
When asked by Complete Colorado if that meant he didn’t support the national effort in its entirety, Tancredo responded:
“Correct. I no longer support.”