Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Amid a national movement to bypass the Electoral College in electing future U.S. presidents -- affirming instead the winner of the nationwide popular vote -- the state of Colorado is pushing the coalition closer to the finish line by placing a voter referendum on the ballot next year.
Colorado's Elections Division said a state Senate bill, 19-042, has qualified the referendum for the 2020 ballot. In 14 months, Colorado voters will decide whether to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact -- a movement supported by 15 states and Washington, D.C., and 196 electoral votes. If it adds states with 74 more, thereby achieving the 270-vote win threshold, the compact will enter legal force -- and the Electoral College will effectively be superseded.
"The question on the ballot will read, 'Shall the following act of the General Assembly be approved: An act concerning adoption of an agreement among the states to elect the president of the United States by national popular vote?'" the office of Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement.
If the national alliance succeeds, it will invalidate the present electoral system and eliminate recent concern over the dependability of "faithless electors" -- members of the college who disregard the candidate who wins their state's popular vote.
Last month, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals further stoked fears of rogue electors by ruling they are under no legal obligation to cast their official ballot for the candidate who carries their state. After the 2016 presidential election, a record 10 "faithless electors" went against the will of the voters to support another candidate. Three were invalidated but seven were entered into the official record. It wasn't enough to sway the election, but experts say that could change in the future -- particularly after the new ruling.
The Electoral College has been unpopular for decades, and has often led to questions about its existence. Dissatisfaction has increased among Democrats twice in the last two decades -- with nominees Al Gore and Hillary Clinton losing elections despite winning the national popular vote.
Adam Lawrence, acting chair of government and political affairs at Millersville University, said one reason is because the framers of the Constitution were deeply skeptical and suspicious about instituting a total democracy.
"The whole idea behind the Electoral College, from their point of view, was to allow electors an independent judgment," he said.
In other words, the Framers effectively wanted a system under which it would be very difficult for masses of ignorant or uninformed voters to put an unfit president in the White House. Therefore, giving more politically astute "electors" the true voting power, the argument goes, allows them the option of disregarding any candidate if it's determined that person isn't well-suited for the job.
"It's not that they wanted the electors to casually disregard the popular will, but they wanted to empower the electors to, if necessary, avoid the selection of a president that may end up not being a good leader despite being supported by the public."
Lawrence said, however, the Electoral College has never really worked the way the framers designed it to.
"The intent was for these electors to exercise independent political judgment, but we've never had that because they've been appointed by the state political party organizations," he said.
Prior to each presidential election, political parties in every state nominate their electors or chose them through a central committee vote, providing each candidate with their own slate of electors.
The U.S. Constitution doesn't lay out many requirements to be an elector. Article II, section 1, clause 2 states that only senators, representatives or public or private office holders are prohibited from being an elector. Also, the 14th Amendment bars state officials who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to its enemies, from being electors. Apart from those terms, any American can be nominated.
Some states have laws that require its electors to cast their ballot for whomever the state popular vote deems the winner -- although those laws were practically struck down by the 10th Circuit ruling. A Washington state decision earlier this year, however, held that the state had the right to fine four "faithless electors" from the 2016 election. With such confusion on the issue, the matter could end up at the Supreme Court.
It's not impossible, either, for states to award a proportional distribution of electors. Maine and Nebraska do it that way, which accounts for the fact its votes were split among Trump and Clinton three years ago There is no national standard, either, through federal law or a constitutional provision regarding how an elector must vote.
"State governments can try to vet them before a party committee picks someone, but once they pick them and they're on the ballot and they get elected there's nothing they can do about it," G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said. "They can fine them, but the vote still stands."
The chances that future presidents will be chosen by the national popular vote are far more likely with the interstate compact than actually reforming the college.
"I can't believe the Senate of the United States is going to deal with changing the Electoral College as long as it's Republican-controlled," he said. "So the reforms are going to have to take place at the state level."