An early flashpoint in the 2019 Colorado legislative session was passage of the National Popular Vote (NPV) bill that requires Colorado to assign its nine electoral votes to the winner of the nation’s popular vote for President. Even with bipartisan opposition, Governor Jared Polis signed the bill, which is bad news for Colorado and our rural communities. The good news is that there is a repeal effort underway that would let Colorado voters weigh in on the issue at the ballot.
The National Popular Vote concept isn’t new and has failed to garner the support needed in prior years. This includes years when Democrats controlled both chambers, like they have again secured this year. Yet six House Democrats representing places like Durango, Manitou Springs, Pueblo and La Jara, joined Republicans in opposing the measure. These representatives outside the urban centers help to explain the passion behind the opposition.
The idea that Colorado’s electoral votes could go to a candidate that failed to win our state is unsettling to say the least, but it also diminishes our political power, particularly in our rural communities.
As a bellwether state, even our somewhat small nine electoral votes have generated numerous visits from Presidential frontrunners. Many of us remember President Obama accepting his nomination at Mile High Stadium or President Trump rallying supporters in Pueblo. The fact that our electoral votes are up for grabs forces these candidates to learn about Colorado specific issues and our needs from the federal government. Under the National Popular Vote compact, Colorado’s electoral power will be diluted by more populated states like California, New York and Texas.
Proponents of the compact believe competitive states like Colorado draw attention away from these populated states. Former State Representative turned lobbyist Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) told the Coloradoan, “Voters who voted for Hillary (Clinton) in 2016 feel disenfranchised…California Republicans have felt that way for 20 years. They feel disenfranchised.” Los Angeles and Manhattan each have a million more voters than all of Colorado. Should the compact go into effect, Colorado and less populated states would truly become fly over country as candidates lock in the highly populated urban centers, ultimately disenfranchising our voters.
An analysis by the League of Women Voters in 2008 cemented these concerns saying, “In order to gain the most popular votes, a candidate will tend to campaign primarily in areas of dense population, ignoring sparsely populated rural areas. The concerns of many rural areas could be overloooked as candidates speak to issues resonating with urban populations.” Colorado is unique, which is why so many are racing to get here. Undoubtedly, we have urban issues facing the state like affordable housing, transportation funding and growth. But we also have strong rural communities that have helped define our state, and Colorado voters recognize the important contributions from these areas outside the Front Range.
Case in point, in 2008 the late U.S. Senator John McCain sought to renegotiate the Colorado River Compact. That compact serves as the lifeblood for Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming by preserving their access to water. McCain wanted to shift those water resources to growing political powerhouses California, Arizona and Nevada. Under the National Popular Vote compact, simple math dictates that a candidate would appease key voting blocs like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix at the expense of the smaller state’s water rights. To add insult to injury, Colorado voters could hand over our electoral votes and our best interests to the candidate giving away our water to the more populated urban centers.
Meas County Commissioner Rose Pugliese and Monument Mayor Don Wilson are proponents of a referendum effort to give voters final say over the National Popular Vote. As has recently been reported, they are closing in fast on the roughly 125,000 signatures from registered Colorado voters needed to put a repeal question on the 2020 state-wide ballot.
Our forefathers intentionally designed a system that helped preserve the voices of smaller states, which Colorado has come to appreciate. Let’s not thumb our noses at their wisdom by joining the National Popular Vote compact and giving away our clout to the urban coastal states.
Rick Enstrom is a semi-retired retail confectioner, former Mesa County Commissioner, past Chairman of the CO Wildlife Commission and operates a 700 acre farm/ranch in SE CO.