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Opinion: It’s time to end “Tyranny of the Battleground States”

Mario Nicolais was too late with his call to prevent a “tyranny of the national majority” in our presidential elections (Jan. 13 Colorado Sun column). A “tyranny” already exists under the current system — but it would best be called “the tyranny of the battleground states.”

As things now stand, every four years, approximately 12 so-called “battleground” states and their dominant blocks of electoral votes consume virtually all of the presidential candidates’ time, money and attention.

The remaining 38 states and the District of Columbia are virtually ignored because presidential candidates see no reason to campaign in places where they are so far behind that they cannot possibly win — or where they are so far ahead that they cannot possibly lose.

Mike Foote

Simple fairness dictates that a voter living here in Colorado, which commands nine electoral votes, should be just as important to the outcome of a presidential election as a voter living in the battleground state of Florida, which has 29 electoral votes.

If anyone wishes to put a stop to this very real “tyranny of the battleground states,” and help make every voter politically relevant regardless of where they live, they should join us in supporting the bipartisan, National Popular Vote interstate compact.

Simply stated, the National Popular Vote interstate compact is the only reform plan that would absolutely guarantee the presidency of the United States to the candidate receiving the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The compact would take effect only when enacted by states possessing enough electoral votes to elect a president (270 of 538). After the compact takes effect, all the electoral votes from all of the compacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the majority of the national popular vote.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

With respect, there are three major misinterpretations of the National Popular Vote compact.

Misinterpretation number one: The National Popular Vote interstate compact would effectively disenfranchise states with small populations — and states that predictably vote “red” or “blue” in presidential elections. The National Popular Vote interstate compact would effectively disenfranchise states with small populations — and states that predictably vote “red” or “blue” in presidential elections. 

In fact, the exact opposite is true.  Any novice campaign professional can reason that if winning the White House with 270 electoral votes directly depended on winning the national popular vote, presidential candidates would be compelled to pay attention to every state, regardless of size or voting history, because every person’s vote would count equally toward a national popular majority.

The Trump vs. Clinton election of 2016 perfectly illustrates how the current system renders 38 states and 70 percent of all voters virtually irrelevant to the real contest.

Once the general election campaign commenced, 94 percent of all 399 major campaign events were held in just 12 battleground states containing, in total, about 30 percent of the U.S. population.

These included the electoral vote-rich and/or swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Utah, New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.  In 2020, both liberal and conservative pundits do not anticipate that Colorado will be a battleground state like it was in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Typically, a battleground state is only classified as a battleground state for three presidential election cycles.  

Moreover, just over half of those events occurred in just four key battleground states: Florida — 71 events and 29 electoral votes; North Carolina — 55 events and 15 electoral votes; Pennsylvania — 54 events and 20 electoral votes; and Ohio — 48 events and 18 electoral votes. Every state with three electoral votes (the smallest of the small states) were all but completely ignored.

Misinterpretation Number 2: Our nation’s Founders would have viewed the National Popular Vote interstate compact as inconsistent with a republican form of government.

In fact, the Founders explicitly gave states the authority under the Constitution to form compacts like the National Popular Vote interstate compact.

The Constitution also grants the states authority to award their electoral votes as they see fit, stipulating in Article 2, Section 1: “Each state shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors …” It is also important to note that the National Popular Vote interstate compact keeps the Electoral College in place — and would simply award at least 270 electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the states’ exclusive rights to allocate electors in the manner they decide in both the 1892 McPherson v Blacker decision and in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision.

Misinterpretation Number 3: States could make presidential elections fair by adopting a congressional district plan.

In fact, this notion would take a bad system and make it worse. Partisan gerrymandering by both political parties has, over the years, rigged the great majority of congressional districts to vote either “red” or “blue,” rendering all but about 50 districts non-competitive.

So electoral votes reflecting the popular vote totals in congressional districts would make fewer voters relevant, not more, in presidential elections.

Under the National Popular Vote interstate compact, the presidential election of 2020 could be the first where the winner of the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia is guaranteed to win the White House.

It has already passed in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Those 12 jurisdictions possess a total of 172 electoral votes – just 98 short of the electoral votes required for the proposal to take effect.  

In 2019, seven additional states are expected to join the compact. Colorado should enact the compact now and do our part to make every American voter politically relevant in every presidential election.

Mike Foote, D-Boulder, is a Colorado state senator and is the sponsor of SB 42, National Popular Vote Interstate Compact legislation

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