Coloradans are tired of the two-party system. More Colorado voters are registered as unaffiliated than with either of the two major parties. Our political needs are simply too diverse to be represented by two, enormous options.
To make matters worse, most Coloradans don’t even have two options. The newest district maps for the Colorado General Assembly had only 22 competitive races out of 82 this past election. This means that 73% of Coloradans weren’t able to cast a meaningful vote last November.
How are Coloradans supposed to have a voice in our legislature when the overwhelming majority of us can’t even cast a meaningful vote? A conservative Coloradan should have more than one party to choose from, and the same is true for a progressive Coloradan.
But if all of this is true, why don’t the third parties of Colorado see more success? Colorado has eight registered parties, but every sitting member of our legislature is in one of two parties.
The answer is simple: the rules of our elections. In Colorado, you pick your favorite candidate, and whichever candidate gets the most votes (even if they don’t secure a majority), wins. Simple.
But election scholars have known for decades that our system is the problem. They even have a name for the effect: Duverger’s Law. Our system of voting is known to almost always lead to an entrenched two-party system, like the one in which Colorado is currently trapped.
As expected, this broken system leads to unfair and undemocratic outcomes in our General Assembly.
Consider that in November, 46% of all the votes cast statewide for House of Representatives candidates went to Republicans. The House has 65 seats; 46% equates to 29 or 30 seats.
Instead, Republicans were awarded 19 House seats. The House, where every seat is up for election every two years, is now split 46-19 Democrats-to-Republicans, even though three months ago, Republican House candidates earned nearly half the total vote across Colorado.
The story was the same in the state Senate, where 17 seats — half the chamber — were up for election in November. Taking the state as a whole, Republicans got just over half the total votes. That equates to nine of the 17 seats up for grabs. Instead, the GOP was awarded six. Democrats, who collectively earned less than half the statewide vote, were awarded 11 seats.
Why does this happen? Because we don’t elect our 65 Representatives and 35 Senators by statewide vote. We elect them one-by-one, each within the confines of a single district, each in winner-take-all fashion.
This logic might make sense within a single district. But when it plays out the same way over 65 districts, it begins to warp the idea of proportional representation across the state as a whole, and starts to systematically diminish the voice of one group of Colorado voters in favor of another.
Luckily, the solution is simple — though non-trivial to implement — and would likely have a significant impact after just one election. For the sake of our democracy and the voice of every Coloradan, the Colorado General Assembly must move before the 2024 election to adopt legislation that does the following:
- Consolidates the 65 House of Representatives districts into 13, each with five representatives; and consolidates the 35 Senate districts into seven, each with five senators. The ratio of population-to-representative would remain the same as it is now.
- Establishes ranked-choice voting (also known as single transferable vote) to elect the five representatives in each House and Senate district.
- Establishes ranked-choice voting (also known as instant-runoff) for the seat of Governor and other single-seat executive state positions.
How would this work? Consider five election districts, each with a 60-40 breakdown between two political parties: A and B.
Under our current system (and our current habit of hyper-partisan voting behavior), Party A would win all five districts, leading to representation in government of 5-0.
But if those five districts were consolidated into one, under a system that results in proportional representation, then Party A would win three seats, and Party B would win two. Proportional representation in Colorado could give a voice to the conservatives in Denver County, and to the liberals in El Paso County.
Proportional representation would support a multi-party system that gives more Coloradans a voice and will inject fresh perspectives and solutions into the Colorado General Assembly. When no single party has a majority, they are forced to build coalitions and find consensus, which almost always leads to better legislative outcomes that would represent the needs of more Coloradans.
And the problem of non-competitive districts would be solved, too. Under proportional representation, it becomes possible for a third party to make any election competitive. So in districts that currently see no competition, entrepreneurial new parties can challenge incumbents and shake up the status quo. Even if these third parties don’t win, they will force incumbents and established parties to actually campaign, engage with voters, and articulate specific policy and legislative focuses.
The people of Colorado deserve better than our current election system. Last year alone, it robbed 73% of Coloradans of a meaningful vote for their legislature. It’s preventing the majority of Coloradans registered as unaffiliated voters from finding a party that reflects their values. It’s amplifying some voters while silencing others. It’s creating a two-party-only system that is turning neighbors against neighbors.
It’s time for our legislators, who got into politics to fix the big problems facing our state, to fix one of the biggest problems of all: the state of Colorado’s democracy.
But they won’t do it unless Coloradans unite to make it happen. So tell your friends, your family, your colleagues. Call your state representative, your state senator, and our governor. A better path forward for Colorado exists, all we have to do is make it a reality.
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