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Don Wilson, the Monument mayor and a lead organizer in effort to repeal the national popular vote compact, watches as supporters sign the petition at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver on July 12, 2019. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

The advocates behind an effort to repeal the national popular vote compact signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis say they’ve verified enough signatures to get their challenge on the 2020 ballot.

The deadline to submit petitions is Aug. 1, and Coloradans Vote, the issue committee challenging the new law, reports it has authenticated more than 150,000 voter signatures using state records. More signatures are still pouring into the office. To make the ballot, the group needs verified signatures from 124,632 registered voters.

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“I think the reason this has so much momentum is these are the people’s votes — it’s very personal to them. And they want their votes cast in Colorado for Colorado’s Electoral College votes,” said Rose Pugliese, a Mesa County commissioner and lead organizer at Coloradans Vote, the issue committee challenging the law.

The group expects to collect about 200,000 signatures, enough to provide a cushion to account for the upwards of 30% that may fail validation. The secretary of state’s office will certify the signatures once submitted.

If certified for the ballot, it would be the first time since The Great Depression that Colorado voters would decide whether to repeal or reaffirm a law approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. In 1932, voters repealed a law that increased the tax on oleomargarine.

And it could give an organizing boost to Republicans in a key election year with the presidential contest and U.S. Senate race on the same ballot. Coloradans Vote plans to raise money for a statewide campaign to draw out its supporters, the majority of whom are conservative or unaffiliated voters.

“This national popular vote issue has become the focal point of all the frustrations that Republicans have had these past six months with the passage of gun control and undermining TABOR — all the things the Democrats did,” said Dick Wadhams, a Republican consultant and former state party chairman, referring to other legislation from the 2019 session.

The repeal effort started collecting signatures March 16, the day after Polis signed a law to award Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes for president to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. It would not take effect until states with a total of 270 electoral votes — a majority of the 538 needed to win the White House — sign the agreement.

So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia with a combined 196 electoral votes are part of the compact. In June, Oregon became the most recent state to join the agreement. But efforts in two other states recently failed after the Nevada governor vetoed the compact and the legislature in Maine reversed course to reject it, both citing concerns about smaller states being overlooked during the campaign in favor of states with larger populations.

MORE: The Colorado debate about a plan to bypass the Electoral College for the national popular vote, explained.

The debate about Electoral College takes focus

The argument is exactly why Rel Hoida signed the recall petition Friday while attending the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. The 50-year-old from Colorado Springs said the law approved by the Democratic-controlled statehouse is “not just overreach — it’s dangerous.”

“I think it’s absolutely foolish to allow our vote to be ceded to essentially the liberal population centers,” he said. “What are we are left with when our vote gets taken away? That’s tyranny and that gets ugly very fast.”

In Colorado right now, the winner of the state’s popular vote receives all its electoral votes — the same system used in all but two states. (Nebraska and Maine, with a combined nine electoral votes, award them proportionally by congressional district.) 

The proponents of the national popular vote said the current winner-take-all system in Colorado is unfair regardless of party because the votes for the losing candidate at the state level are disregarded. Five times in U.S. history, the winner of the winner of the White House lost the national popular vote, most recently in 2016 with President Donald Trump.

State Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the national popular vote law, said the Electoral College “really undermines this fundamental concept of democracy, that every vote should count equally no matter where you live.”

She rejects the idea pushed by critics that California and New York, with 55 and 29 electoral votes respectively, will determine the winner. “There are Republicans and Democrats and unaffiliated votes in California, Colorado and New York, so the entirety of California is not voting for one candidate or the other,” she said. “People are still dividing their votes. What we expect to see under national popular vote is candidates will have to campaign across the country because statistically you can’t rely on one city or one state.”

Both sides of the argument contend their respective system forces presidential candidates to campaign in a broader swath of the nation. Ann Howe, an engineer from Monument who signed the repeal petition, said she is concerned Colorado and smaller states will become a flyover state when it comes to drawing interest from presidential candidates. Moreover, she said, the system works now.

The national popular vote is “a violation of how we functioned as a country for over 200 years,” she said. “I don’t want mob rule. I want to function as a republic. We are not a democracy, we are a constitutional republic. And (a popular vote) goes against everything we hold dear.”

MORE: Don’t like what state lawmakers do? Here’s how to recall a law in Colorado.

Polis defends his support for national popular vote

Polis’ support for the national popular vote is a primary driver of the effort to recall him from office. But the recall is unlikely to succeed because it needs five times as many signatures as the ballot question to force a special election and the timeline to submit them is shorter.

He defended the law at a recent event at the governor’s mansion, saying “the Electoral College system is kind of an antiquated, undemocratic concept” and he wants “to get rid of it.”

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On a pragmatic level, the governor said, Colorado’s growth means that a vote in smaller states like Wyoming counts more than one in Colorado. “Due to the growth that we have had, we are now more in the large state category so we are penalized by the Electoral College,” he told a luncheon of business leaders.

But he believes “it’s more important to have a philosophical argument” that recognizes significant changes in how campaigns are run. A debate is needed, he said, “about whether we want to have this intermediary step that was created at a time when communications weren’t as strong and there were electors sent forth from states to go meet somewhere to determine a president, or whether we trust the people enough to simply allow the people of our state and our country to choose their president.”

Monument Mayor Don Wilson, another leader of the effort to recall the law, said the large number of signatures on petitions answers the question Polis posed. “This tells him this was not a good choice,” he said.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.