Colorado just qualified a ballot referendum to change the way they allocate their electoral votes and, if passed, to make it effective for this election. If this election is as close as the last one, this change would tip it in Kerry's direction.
First, a quick civics review. Each state gets as many electoral votes as the number of their Representatives and Senators combined. Thus the smallest states (by population) are guaranteed three electors.* Forty-eight states have a winner-take-all system of allocating their electoral votes. The actual practice is usually that your vote for president is really a vote for the state-wide slate of electors chosen by that candidate's party. Five weeks after the election the electors meet in Washington and cast their votes. In Maine and Nebraska, the electors are chosen in the congressional districts with the extra two electors being awarded to the overall winner.
Lesson over. Back to Colorado.
If passed, Amendment 36 would make Colorado the first state to allocate electoral votes proportionately according to the popular vote, rather than giving a winner all of the state's electoral votes.
Republican Gov. Bill Owens and state party chairman Ted Halaby have criticized the proposal, saying it would lessen the state's clout in presidential elections. They warn candidates will ignore the state and its nine electoral votes if the measure passes.
Julie Brown, campaign director for the Make Your Vote Count effort that supports the measure, dismissed their concerns. "It begs the question on which is more important -- a two-hour presidential stop at a tarmac at Denver International Airport or true representation by the voters."
Katy Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the opposing Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea, promised a challenge if the measure passes and is applied in this year's presidential race. The proposal's backers want it to take effect before Colorado's electoral votes are cast in December. "They are ripe for a court challenge on this," Atkinson said. "If this is a close race like the one four years ago, we could be thrown into a situation where we are the Florida of 2004. We'd be the laughing-stock of the country. All those Florida jokes would be applied to Colorado."
They have little to worry about; Florida is putting up a valiant struggle to keep the title.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not this is a good idea, let's just look at its potential effect on the election. If this system had been in place in 2000, Al Gore would have won the election. He would have taken four of Colorado's nine votes and wouldn't have needed Florida. If Florida had not had the power to decide the election, its voting woes would have been a local issue little noticed outside their borders. If this system is voted in and allowed to be used this fall, it will have the same effect as moving a small state from the Bush column to the Kerry column.
For this reason, the Republicans are going to fight to the death to stop this measure. The anti 36 groups are about to become one of the best funded referendum related movements in the country. If it passes, the law suits will be big and loud. The worst case scenario would be another close election with the presidency resting on the decision of this lawsuit and Scalia getting to chose the president again (gosh, I wonder who he'd pick). If it passes and survives the challenges. The republicans will probably decide they like it and referenda in California and New York with the hope of peeling fifteen or twenty electors off in each state. The Democrats would respond by going for Texas and Virginia and the end would finally be in sight for the Electoral College.
Not that many people would miss it.
* This results in the smallest states by population being slightly over-represented and the largest states being slightly under-represented in presidential elections. If electoral votes were apportioned strictly according to population, Alaska and Wyoming would get about two-thirds of an elector each. The electoral college gives the average Alaskan and Wyomingan about five times as much influence as a straight popular vote would.