Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

The proposal to change the Electoral College system in Colorado
Saturday, October 23, 2004

by Antoine Clarke

[Reference: Commentary "SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE... Some thoughts on Colorado's plan to divide its 2004 Electoral Vote" -Ed.]

The problem with the proposal to change the Electoral College system in Colorado is that it is transparently motivated by anger over the last presidential election result. If the Democrats were to win Colorado and win the ballot reform it would be a juicy irony if, say, 4 Republican Electoral Votes were decisive in returning the President for his second term! But looking at the vote reform in the context of the USA as a whole it is even dafter.

We know that a full blown campaign is underway in Maine precisely because of the two chances at winning Electoral Votes: the Republicans may hope to win 3 or 4 Electoral Votes, but they seem fairly confident of at least winning 1 (in Maine's CD2). In Colorado, if the ballot reform were already in place, neither party would have the slightest interest in contesting: the marginal vote would not be worth it. Colorado would effectively be worth 1 Electoral Vote.

Things would be different, of course, if the whole of the US were to adopt a proportional apportionment of Electoral Votes. But, because the US is a federal republic and not a monolithic state, I would be wary of any change that might weaken the individual states.

I note that some political observers believe that President Bush could win the majority of the Popular Vote, yet lose the Electoral Vote, a reversal of the 2000 situation. Am I cynical in believing that the very campaigners for ballot reform this time would remain silent and desist from protesting the injustice of the system?

Rather than try to change the election rules, I would have thought the Democratic Party should ponder the reasons why the last time its presidential candidate scored over 50% of votes cast was in 1976. My own view (sitting on the opposite shore of the Atlantic) is that their candidates have not been particularly good and for various reasons have failed to come across as the best person to provide for the USA’s defence. This is not to say that the Republican candidates come across as good, but the winners generally do so, on the basis that they are more credible on defence.

I enjoy 'The Green Papers' Commentary very much and have recommended your site to many of my readers. Thank you for your hard work and please keep it going.

Best wishes,

Antoine Clarke,


Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

No, I don't think you're being cynical: American History reveals quite a lot of abject hypocrisy on the part of both Major Parties. However, the fact remains that the Democrats are not going to so willingly give up the advantage if they can still elect John Kerry President even should George W. Bush win the Popular Vote.

Besides, to many Democrats, it would all be poetic justice ("you did it to us, now we've done it to you!")- after all, this is a Party in which there are significant elements even now still proclaiming the alleged "truth" of the myth that the U.S. Supreme Court (precisely because the majority of that Court was- and still is- made up of conservative Republican appointees) [s]elected George W. Bush as President four years ago (and, yes, it IS a myth!-- Al Gore actually lost the 2000 Presidential Election [no matter how long thereafter it took him to actually concede it] on 26 November, a good week or so before even the first oral arguments in Bush v. Gore, when the second set of recounts [this time ordered by the Florida Supreme Court] were certified [it was this second set of recounts that ultimately became the "official" count, formally certified both to Congress and the National Archives, giving now-President Bush a 537-vote victory in the State]: the admittedly arcane workings of the Electoral Law of 1887 that still- in 2004- governs how the Electoral Vote is ultimately tabulated by Congress [which is, despite the high Court's opinion in Bush v. Gore, still the constitutional "umpire" of any Presidential Election] would have automatically [as a more modern variant of that "machine that would go of itself" the Framers of the Constitution had actually intended the Electoral College to be] given the election to George W. Bush in any event [even had the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the third set of court-ordered recounts still in work the second week in December to go forward]!-- but there are those who continue believe this myth who do so because, preferring to be angry at the result, they thereby remain woefully ignorant of how Presidential Elections actually work [despite the best efforts of 'The Green Papers' ;-)] : more to the point, there are those who do know how Presidential Elections actually work but who also politically and electorally benefit from those others continuing to believe this myth and, therefore, have no vested interest in providing enlightenment!). Democrats should have been angry at the workings of the 18th Century concept of an "Electoral College" in an election choosing the first President of the United States to be inaugurated in the 21st Century-- instead, far too many of that Party chose to be far more angry at the U.S. Supreme Court-- thus, we still have the very possibility you yourself have brought up!

Having noted all this, however- and from what I can discern, it seems that both Major Parties are currently unhappy with Colorado's "Amendment 36" proposal: the Republicans are unhappy precisely because of the past (for, had Colorado chosen its Presidential Electors proportionally in 2000, we would now all be talking about the re-election chances of President Al Gore [the 2000 Popular Vote percentages in Colorado were: Bush 50.7%, Gore 42.4%, Nader 5.3%: in order to receive a full Electoral Vote (of Colorado's then-8) a candidate would have had to reach 12.5% of the Statewide vote, so Nader (along with all the other non-Major Party candidates behind Nader in the "standings") would have been eliminated from consideration; of the remaining vote for candidates eligible for Electors (Bush and Gore only), Bush received 54.5%, Gore 45.5% which would have resulted in a proportional Electoral Vote of 4.36 for Bush, 3.64 for Gore: thus, the Colorado Electoral Vote would have been 4-4 (Bush's 4.36 is rounded down, Gore's 3.64 is rounded up), changing a 271-267 Bush victory in the 2000 Electoral Vote nationwide to a 271-267 Gore victory (and we all would never have paid any attention to what had happened in Florida-- likely, there wouldn't even have been any court-ordered recounts in the Sunshine State and the Popular Vote in that State re: the original certification of its Presidential Electors a few days after the 2000 Election would have been the "official" tally!)])... while the Democrats are also unhappy principally because of both the present and future (for why should Senator Kerry or, for that matter, any future Democratic presidential candidate- should that Democrat actually win Colorado [after hard sweaty campaign-related work on the part of Colorado Democrats]- have to then share [most likely] 4 of the State's current 9 Presidential Electors with the Republicans?)

Having said all this, it- nevertheless- remains the case that it will be up to the People of the State of Colorado, in their capacity as the "Legislature" of that State whenever their Initiative and Referendum is invoked, to decide just how to allocate their State's Presidential Electors (as the "Legislature" of any State is permitted to do under Article II, Section 1, clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States): any legal challenges in court to Amendment 36, should it pass muster with the voters of Colorado come 2 November, will finally shake this all out in any event-- and there is little those who do not reside in Colorado can now do about it!

[by the way (and please know that I am not at all above giving my own past writings the occasional "plug"), if one reading this might be interested in various proposed methods of electing the President and Vice-President of the United States other than the "winner-take-all" system allocating the Electoral Vote used in the vast majority of States (that which Colorado's "Amendment 36" now seeks to change for that State), please see my Commentary entitled 'TO THE SPOILS GOES THE VICTOR' (from way back on 23 January 2001!)]


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