Skip to contents
Opinion Columns

Nicolais: The tyranny of the national majority

Proposal to bind Electoral College members to the national popular vote risks dangers our country’s founders found intolerable

I assume state Sen. Mike Foote and state Reps. Emily Sirota and Jeni Arndt don’t like President Donald Trump. More specifically, they really don’t like National-Popular-Vote-Loser Donald Trump sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the White House.

To ensure the same scenario doesn’t repeat itself in the future, the three legislators sponsored a bill that would tie Colorado’s Electoral College votes to the national popular vote.

To be clear, this is not a knee-jerk reaction to a president from the opposite party. A version of the same bill first passed the state Senate in 2006 and has been proposed on several occasions since.

Mario Nicolais

The 2016 election just underscored the point. Even absent a daily deluge of obnoxious tweets and falsehoods, the idea that Trump took office after receiving almost three million fewer votes — no, there weren’t millions of illegal votes counted — than Hillary Clinton seems objectively unfair. Even worse, it seems patently undemocratic.

Unfortunately, the national popular vote compact is the wrong answer. It would create nothing less than a tyranny of the national majority.

Our country’s founders understood the threat posed by such a system. In Federalist No. 10 and No. 51, James Madison specifically cited a republican form of government as critical to defending against oppression of the minority.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

In fact, he clearly rejected the pure popular form of government because it allowed a majority to “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”

Binding Colorado’s electoral votes to the national popular vote would create just the type of scenario Madison feared. Presidential campaigns would be confined to the largest population centers on the coasts while ignoring the interests of the people across the rest of the country.

Colorado would almost certainly fall victim to that eventuality. If city centers in currently non-competitive states, such as Los Angeles, suddenly became the key to winning the national popular vote, Colorado and our state interests would quickly become a tertiary concern.

Clinton lost in large part because she ignored the Midwestern states that put Trump over the top. She assumed victories and didn’t schedule campaign stops or allocate resources.

On election night, she paid the price as those states slipped away. But under a national popular vote system, that type of neglect would go unpunished. To the contrary, it would likely become requisite.

Beyond structural problems, a national popular vote could give rise to several unforeseen problems. For example, the already obscene cost of campaigns would climb even higher.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Paying to chase votes in expensive cities like New York, previously an electoral afterthought due to its reliable Democratic performance, would cause political spending to skyrocket. Today’s already voracious fundraising campaigns would need to operate in overdrive to keep up.

If change needs to be made to Colorado’s winner-take-all process, there are other options that would not suffer from the same drawbacks.

In Maine and Nebraska, the winner in each congressional district gets the corresponding elector; only the two electors representing the states’ Senate seats are winner-take-all. Arguably that process creates an even more representative outcome.

In 2008, liberal voters from Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District delivered an electoral vote for Barack Obama while the rest of the ruby red state went to John McCain.

Consequently, the electoral delegation looked a little more like the state itself; mostly red with a tinge of blue. That wouldn’t have happened under either a winner-take-all or national electoral vote.

As the power vested in the executive branch continues to grow, how we choose our presidents becomes an even more important project. Foote, Sirota and Arndt have done a service to the state by bringing the issue to the forefront, but their answer isn’t in the best interest of Colorado.

For the sake of our state and the interests of our people, Colorado shouldn’t submit to the tyranny of the majority.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

The Colorado Sun has no paywall, meaning readers do not have to pay to access stories. We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable.

This reporting depends on support from readers like you. For just $5/month, you can invest in an informed community.

More from The Colorado Sun

More from The Colorado Sun