After weeks of intense pushback from the GOP — and without a single Republican state lawmaker in support — a bill joining Colorado to a national compact attempting to bypass the Electoral College system is heading to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.
Polis has voiced support for the measure and, despite the lack of bipartisan support, is expected to sign Senate Bill 42. The measure aims to ensure a presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote is the candidate elected president.
The legislation cleared the state House on Thursday following hours of debate starting on Wednesday as Republicans made failed attempt after failed attempt to amend the bill.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” said state Sen. Mike Foote, a Boulder County Democrat and bill sponsor about the lack of bipartisanship. “It’s not intended to be a partisan issue.”
The measure passed its first Senate committee 3-2 along party lines and then went before the full chamber where it was approved on partisan split 19-16. In the House, it won approval in its first committee hearing 6-3 on party lines before its final vote Thursday.
The House vote was 34-29 with no Republican support. Six Democrats voted against it: Reps. Adrienne Benavidez of Denver; Bri Buentello of Pueblo; Barbara McLachlan of Durango; Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs; Daneya Esgar of Pueblo; and Donald Valdez of La Jara.
Another Democrat, Rep. Janet Buckner of Aurora, was absent.
The bill is among the first to pass the Colorado legislature this year without any Republican support. There is a strong possibility other measures will follow the same route — including the “red flag” gun bill — given that Democrats control both chambers and the governor’s office.
But the split is notable given Democrats’ pledge to to work across the aisle, including on the most controversial of issues like sexual education legislation. Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, is a prime sponsor of that bill.
Republicans argue that the compact is an end-run around the U.S. Constitution that cuts out the voice of rural voters and would make Colorado irrelevant in electoral politics by effectively handing over the decision of who will be president to more populous states.
“It will be a breach of public trust to convert the electors of Colorado into the agents of California,” said Rep. Lori Saine, a Firestone Republican. “There is a reason that the proponents brought this particular bill to this particular body at this particular time. It does an end-run around how we amend the Constitution of the United States. … This is an exercise of the tyranny of the majority.”
Democrats say the compact is a perfectly legal way to update a system created some 250 years ago. They argue it’s more equitable and ensures that every vote cast in a presidential election is truly equal.
Foote said that polling across the country has showed bipartisan support for the compact and pointed to Republicans elsewhere who have been in favor of the policy. He believes Trump’s loss in 2016 is fueling the GOP pushback in Colorado to the measure this year.
“I suspect that if we have an election in 2020 where the Democratic candidate wins the electoral college without winning the popular votes then we may see a big switch in that (partisan split),” Foote said. “But as of now we are dealing with the after effects of November 2016. The national popular vote is a long-term proposition.”
There are also political implications for both parties. Voters in rural states with smaller populations tend to be more conservative — think Wyoming and North Dakota — and, under the Electoral College system, have a greater voice in elections. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote in 2016 over Republican Donald Trump, but lost the electoral count.
Five of the nation’s 45 presidents have won the Electoral College vote and not the popular vote. Before Clinton’s loss, Democrat Al Gore fell short in the same way to Republican George W. Bush in 2000.
The compact would only go into effect if a presidential candidate won the highest number of votes in a race but fell short in the Electoral College tally. But first, enough states would have to adopt the policy to equal enough Electoral College votes — 270 — to win the presidency.
If Polis signs Senate Bill 42, Colorado would become the 12th state to join the compact. New Jersey, New York, California, Washington and Maryland are among those who have already adopted it.
Colorado’s nine electoral votes make the total represented in the compact 181. Other state legislatures also are weighing whether to join.