Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese and others working to ensure that Colorado doesn't participate in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact turned in nearly 230,000 signatures Thursday to the Secretary of State's Office to get the measure onto the ballot.
The effort, to reverse a law joining the compact approved by the Colorado Legislature during this year's session, only needs signatures from 124,632 registered voters to quality for the ballot, which would be in November 2020. The petition drive exceeded its signature goal by more than 30,000.
Pugliese said she was overwhelmed by the opposition to the idea, saying it isn't just Republicans who oppose it.
"I think this movement has been a little bit different than some of the others because, while it was quite partisan in the Legislature, it really wasn't on the streets," Pugliese said. "We were talking to people of all political affiliations, and nobody was like, 'I'm a Democrat and I'm against this,' or 'I'm a Republican and I'm for it.' It was like, 'These are my votes and we want to have a say.'"
The law was entirely a Democratic effort in the Legislature. Only six House Democrats, including Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango, voted against Senate Bill 42 that called on Colorado to join the compact.
Under the terms of that compact, going to a national popular vote in determining where a state's electoral votes are cast in presidential elections doesn't go into effect until the effort has 270 Electoral College votes, the minimum needed to get elected to the White House.
To date, 15 states and the District of Columbia have approved joining the compact, bringing its total to 196. All of those states have Democratic majorities. Colorado's law to join the compact was to go into effect today, but it now is on hold pending the outcome of the effort to put the matter before voters.
Currently, 48 states have a winner-take-all system, meaning that all of their electoral votes go to whomever wins the popular vote for president in each state. Only Nebraska and Maine have different systems. In those states, two Electoral College votes — representing their two U.S. senators — are based on statewide majority votes, while their remaining electoral votes — representing their representatives — are based on winners in their congressional districts.
The Electoral College, established in the U.S. Constitution in 1789, gives each state votes based on the number of members each have in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. For Colorado, that's nine. The U.S. Constitution allows states to determine how their electoral votes are cast.
Opponents such as Pugliese say sidestepping the Electoral College would mean Colorado's electoral votes would be determined by voters in other, more populated states, such as California and New York. They say the system was designed to place lesser populated states on an even keel.
Supporters, however, say the effort would allow Colorado voters to have a greater say not just on the state's electoral votes, but also those in all other states.
"Our mission is to empower voters and defend democracy, and that is exactly what the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would do," said Ruth Stemler, president of the League of Women Voters of Colorado. "Colorado voters have the power to allocate just nine of 538 electoral votes. Under the compact, every Colorado voter gains a stronger voice by awarding 270 electoral votes — enough to elect a president — and the winner of the most votes nationwide becomes president."