Monday, August 02, 2004

A Seriously Under-Reported Story 

Luis Toro takes up one of the most under-reported stories of this electoral cycle* : the Colorado ballot initiative that would shift that state's electoral college delegation from winner-take-all to a kind of quasi-proportionality. Luis has given the question some thought, and will be voting against the proposal.

Why? First, Luis argues that abolishing the electoral college would be better. While I agree that the electoral college stinks, I'm not too impressed with this line of reasoning, mostly because I don't think the two issues are really very closely related. There's just no reason to believe that Colorado's adoption of this new system will somehow make nationwide electoral college reform less likely. Indeed, I would guess that passage of the initiative will set off a kind of arms race between the two major parties to get similar measures passed in other states, and that this trend and the related arm-waving and shouting will make a populist drive to get rid of the electoral college much more likely.

Luis, however, has more to say:
But that isn't the only reason I'm saying No to this plan. Let me tick off some of the others. First, I have a general objection to the constitutional amendment by ballot initiative. Let's elect our congresspeople and executives and let them do their jobs. This amendment doesn't even come close to meeting my own personal higher threshold for holding my nose and voting for one of these things. And I am very much against tinkering with the state Constitution for the purpose of capturing an ephemeral and theoretical advantage in a single election -- which is one way of looking at this amendment, because it expressly states that if passed, it would apply to the selection of electors in this presidential election.

Let's admit it -- there are a fair number of Democrats who are supporting this measure because they think it is a way to peel off four electoral votes from George Bush. Defeatists!!! How stupid will we feel if John Kerry wins Colorado, but the electoral college "reform" measure passes, Bush picks up four electoral votes and those votes put him over the 270 vote threshold to put him in the White House for another four years. Then what? John Kerry sues to overturn the measure because it changes the way electors are chosen during the same election at which those electors are on the ballot? The Colorado Supreme Court rules in his favor, but the U.S. Supreme Court installs George W. Bush as president a second time?

Not to mention in future elections as Colorado continues to swing away from the (recent) GOP high water mark toward being a true tossup or even Dem-leaning multicultural postmodern ideopolis, we might discover that within the Electoral College framework this initiative would have the long term effect of guaranteeing the Republicans three or four electoral votes where they otherwise would have none.

No thank you. Let's leave this Pandora's box closed.
Once again, I'm with Luis in being suspicious of the "constitutional amendment by ballot initiative" process; what's the point of having a constitution if a majority of voters can amend it at any election? I'm not certain this is an argument against supporting the amendment, though. It might be smarter to take advantage of Colorado's easy ballot access regulations to get an initiative on the next ballot amending this process out of existence.

Luis's arguments about the long-term implications of the initiative are much more intriguing. He's absolutely correct that to the extent Colorado trends Democratic in the future, Democrats will be hurt nationally by this initiative. On the other hand, while there's some reason to suspect that this is indeed happening, my (limited) knowledge of Colorado's demographics suggests that the state's electorate is actually moving in the other direction.

The "Pandora's Box" problem is more serious. It's all too likely that Republicans will push a similar initiative in California at the next available opportunity. It's possible that, as I suggested above, this will ultimately result in electoral college abolition. It's just as possible, however, that the trend will end with California, massively easing the Republicans' path to the White House. Either way, however, Pandora's Box was already opened when this ballot was put on the initiative, and I don't understand how voting against the initiative is supposed to close it

* Under-reported by everybody except me: I've posted on this topic before, arguing that the proposal would increase Colorado's share of pork coming from DC, and that the proposal is poorly designed if its purpose is proportionality or helping Democrats.

UPDATE: Read more comments on Luis's story here.

UPDATE 2: Political Wire is reporting that the proposal will definitely be on the ballot.

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