View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, August 16, 2004

Amendment 36 

With the Secretary of State's certification of signatures, Proposition 99 has burst forth from its cocoon to become the revolting moth known as Amendment 36. Yesterday's Ft. Collins Coloradoan presents the themes of this campaign.

Amendment 36, you will recall, proposes to split Colorado's electoral votes proportionally to its popular vote. In effect, it means that only 1 net vote would be in play for the next two Presidential elections. Should Colorado pick up another representative in 2010, up to 2 electoral votes would be in play. Or maybe none. In any event, it certainly reduce Colorado's interest to Presidential candidates.

John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University, said he does not think the state will be particularly helped or harmed by the passage of this measure.

"If we had 40 or 50 electoral college votes and were a swing state, it would make a difference," he said. "But we are neither, so it doesn't matter."

Straayer admitted it would make a difference in a close election, such as the 2000 presidential election, but said that was an exception, rather than the rule.

For those concerned about Colorado losing importance if the measure passes, Straayer said candidates tend to focus more heavily on states with more votes such as California, New York, Texas and Florida.

For those who say the measure is an issue of true and proportional representation, Straayer said the American political system is filled with features contrary to that idea, such as having two senators for every state and an unelected Supreme Court with lifetime appointments.

Well, I suppose a stopped clock is right twice a day. Straayer's last comments don't quite redeem his previous idiocy. His comments on what states see interest are just factually incorrect. He's so far off base, I could pick him off first, and I'm right-handed with a lousy pickoff move. First, we do seem to be a swing state, enough that candidates are spending money here. Secondly, of the four states he mentions, only one is seeing any interest. In a close election, it doesn't matter how big you are if it's not close, and it doesn't matter how small you are if it is close.

State Sen. Peggy Reeves, D-Fort Collins, said at first glance she is leaning toward supporting the amendment.

"Seems to me it might be more fair," she said. "Everybody's preference is honored."

Reeves also said she isn't concerned about presidential candidates losing interest in Colorado if the measure passes. Rather, she thinks the contrary could happen -- interest in the state would increase because candidates would know they had a chance at getting at least some of the electoral college votes.

Those are the two arguments, one specious, because it's patently untrue, and the other a weird value-judgment about what's "fair." Everybody's preference is honored: some people win, and some people lose. According to this logic we could dispense not only with executives, but with legislatures, and just run the state or the country by plebiscite.

The funny thing is, all these people who are so sure that it won't hurt the state, who are supporting this thing because they see a chance to steal four electoral votes for their guy, don't even have any idea how the votes will be apportioned. The proposal just leaves that to the General Assembly, to be decided after the election.

This year, it's farly clear: winner gets 5, loser gets 4. But what happens after 2010, if we get a 10th electoral vote? Why is it more "fair" that a candidate who wins 50.5% of the vote takes home 6 electoral votes rather than 5? What's the threshold percentage for getting even one, and how do we set it low enough to be "fair," and high enough so that we don't end up apportioning electoral votes like some European slate-ridden parliament where Ralph Nader ends up holding the balance of power? And what's worse, the Assembly apparently will be deciding these things after they know the outcome of the election.

"Fair" is in the eye of the beholder. "Fair" is whatever the rules are before the election starts, that everyone agrees to play by. For years, my friends would argue that the NFL needed more wild card slots, since it wasn't "fair" if someone ended up in a division behind the Cowboys. I never understood this logic. If it's understood that you need to win your division to get in, that's what's "fair." You want to trade away every draft pick for the rest of the decade because "the Future is Now?" Fine, just don't come crawling back when half your team is on Medicaid next year. I didn't understand the logic then, and I don't understand it now. Besides which, nobody's good forever.

This logic is also applied selectively. Diana DeGette's going to win with 70% of the vote, and I don't hear her complaining about how my vote doesn't "count." That logic only applies if your name is Mike Feeley, and you're being helped out by Ken Salazar.

"Fair" means not setting up state legislative boundaries where 50% of the General Assembly runs unopposed because there's nobody of the opposing party registered in their district. In 2002, 5 of 13 Senate seats were basically uncontested, and 20 of 65 House seats. And that doesn't include the seats that were won by 20% or more.

All these people who are so worried about making sure their "vote counts" don't seem to realize that it already does. They just need to run somebody who can appeal to more than 45% of the voters here.

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