On Thursday, the secretary of state certified the Colorado National Popular Vote veto referendum for the November 2020 ballot. Voters will decide whether they want to give Colorado’s nine electoral votes to the presidential candidate that receives the most votes nationwide or continue to give them to the candidate that wins the most votes in Colorado. It will be the first veto referendum to appear before Colorado voters since 1932.
State Sen. Mike Foote (D-17) and Reps. Emily Sirota (D-9) and Jennifer Arndt (D-53) sponsored Senate Bill 42—the legislation adding Colorado to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). SB 42 passed in the legislature along party lines, with all yes votes coming from Democrats and all Republicans voting against it. Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed the bill into law on March 15, 2019.
Veto referendum sponsors—opponents of SB 42—reported submitting over 227,000 signatures to the secretary of state on the August 1 deadline, more than the 124,632 valid signatures needed. SB 42 was suspended until voters decide the issue on November 3, 2020.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is a compact to award member states’ presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote. The NPVIC would go into effect if states representing at least 270 electoral college votes adopt the legislation. As of August 1, 2019, 15 states and Washington, D.C., together representing 196 electoral votes, had joined the NPVIC.
Most states use a winner-take-all system for awarding electoral votes—a candidate who receives 51 percent of the popular vote in a state would receive 100 percent of that state’s electoral votes. In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election with 304 electoral votes compared to Hillary Clinton’s 227 electoral votes. Clinton won the national popular vote with 65.84 million votes compared to Trump’s 62.98 million votes. The 2016 election was not the only instance in which the winner of the electoral college did not receive the most popular votes; it happened in five of the 58 presidential elections in U.S. history.
Coloradans Vote sponsored the referendum position and is leading the campaign in support of a vote against joining the NPVIC. The group argued that “demanding Colorado’s electors cast their votes this way is theft of our votes for president and gives them to more populated areas like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. [The current Electoral College system] ensures that the minority always has a voice by allowing smaller, less populated states to have a more proportionate voice in electing our president.”
Colorado National Popular Vote (Colorado NPV) is campaigning in support of joining the NPVIC and hopes voters will approve Senate Bill 42. In a statement to Ballotpedia, Co-Chair of Colorado NPV Sylvia Bernstein said, “The Electoral College system has resulted in 5 out of 45 American presidents not winning the popular vote. This does not fairly reflect the will of the voters and is harmful to a modern democracy … We believe every vote by every American for the President should count equally, no matter where you live.”
In addition to Colorado, three other states joined the NPVIC in 2019: Delaware, New Mexico, and Oregon. The first state to join was Maryland in 2007. Colorado is a Democratic trifecta. Thirteen of the 15 states to join the NPVIC and Washington, D.C., were controlled by Democratic trifectas at the time. Two were controlled by divided governments.
From 1912 to 1932, 13 veto referendums were on the ballot in Colorado, and none have been on the ballot since. Of the 13 referendum efforts, 10 were successful in overturning the targeted legislation. The targeted legislation was upheld by voters on three occasions.
Nation-wide since the first in 1906, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums on the ballot were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California(48). The states that allowed for veto referendums but had the least number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).