Voting no on 36 will shield state's influence, avoid legal nightmare
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared in the October 23 edition of the Rocky Mountain News.
Have you heard the Yankees beat the Red Sox? You should have: The Yankees outscored the Sox 45 to 41 over seven games. But, you say, the Sox won the series by winning four of those games. Explain that to the supporters of Amendment 36, the measure that seeks to split Colorado's electoral votes for president.
The presidential election is a little like a "best of 50" series (plus one for Washington, D.C.). The difference is that some of the states are bigger, so they count for more votes, and all the contests are held at once. (Physicist Alan Natapoff originally used the sports example.)
Because of the Electoral College, candidates have to succeed across a large number of states rather than win huge in just a few large states. The writers of our resilient Constitution chose to select a victor with broad appeal across the country.
And that means Coloradans have relatively more influence in the presidential election. Similarly, the four runs scored by the Red Sox in the sixth game had the same influence as the 19 runs scored by the Yankees in the third game. The Electoral College means "big scoring" states such as California and New York don't dominate presidential politics.
Now imagine if the Yankees and Red Sox played a seven-game series but didn't know until the final game ended whether victory meant highest total score or most games won. How could they "play ball" without knowing the rules of the game?
Yet Amendment 36 seeks to change the rules of the election after the fact. We have to vote for president at the same time we decide Amendment 36, yet we won't know how our vote for president is counted until we learn the outcome of Amendment 36. Changing the rules in the middle of the game just isn't fair. It prevents some people from voting strategically. That's why some voters have already filed lawsuits.
If the presidential race is close and Amendment 36 passes, the legal nightmare in Colorado will make Florida's dangling chads look like Lawyer Little League. The election might be decided by the courts - again.
Some people say it's unfair that all of Colorado's electoral votes now go to a single candidate, even though a large minority of voters picks the other person. However, by pooling our electoral votes, we are able to maximize our influence in the presidential race. In the long run, that's better for all of us.
It's no coincidence that some Californians want people in Colorado to pass Amendment 36.
Some opponents of the Electoral College argue it's unfair that a single voter in a large state has less influence than a voter in a small state. Amendment 36 won't change that - all it does is hurt Coloradans. But people who bring up the argument about relative voter influence, to be consistent, should also advocate abolishing the entire U.S. Senate. After all, each state gets two senators, regardless of population. The electoral vote is determined by the number of senators and House members of each state.
Another objection to the Electoral College is that, originally, it allowed racist outcomes. But that's not the fault of the Electoral College - it's the fault of a different section of the Constitution, now thankfully amended, that counted slaves as partial people for purposes of allotting House members. That old racist language was shameful, but it has nothing to do with how the Electoral College works today. The racist rules were abolished with the 14th Amendment in 1868.
William Kimberling of the Federal Election Commission writes "the Electoral College actually enhances the status of minority groups. This is so because the votes of even small minorities in a state may make the difference between winning all of that state's electoral votes or none of that state's electoral votes. And since ethnic minority groups in the United States happen to concentrate in those states with the most electoral votes, they assume an importance to presidential candidates well out of proportion to their number."
Of course Amendment 36 would not impact the electoral votes of other states anyway. But dumping the current Electoral College system would hurt people in small states and minorities in all states.
But will Amendment 36 help minor parties? Ralph Shnelvar, the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2002, doesn't think so: "Most people in this country subscribe to the wasted-vote syndrome. So if the election is close nationally, people won't vote for minor parties if Amendment 36 passes. The only way you can vote strategically and vote for a minor party is under a winner-take-all system, and people are able to vote strategically as a vote of conscience."
The Red Sox won. And that's perfectly fair, even though Yankee fans hate it. Presidential politics is a lot more important than a baseball series, so it's even more important to vote no on Amendment 36 to protect Colorado's influence, avoid a potential legal nightmare, and keep the rules of the game fair.
Ari Armstrong edits FreeColorado.com.