Seeing red and blue 

Amendment 36 seeks to change all-or-nothing system

click to enlarge Backers of Amendment 36 want voters  not the - Electoral College  to have the final say in Colorado.
  • Backers of Amendment 36 want voters not the Electoral College to have the final say in Colorado.

Republican President George W. Bush doesn't have Colorado in the bag.

And neither does Democrat John F. Kerry.

Four years ago, because of the state's all-or-nothing system, Bush won Colorado. If activists are successful at changing that system, it might not be so easy for him this year.

Amendment 36, which was approved for the ballot last week, seeks to change how the state distributes its Electoral College votes, beginning with the Nov. 2 election.

The proposal would scrap the state's system of awarding all nine of its electoral votes to the presidential candidate that wins the state, replacing it with a system that allocates electors based on the percentage of the popular vote. For example, in a two-candidate race with one candidate getting 51 percent of the vote, the top finisher would get five electors, and the competitor would get four.

"The issue is one person, one vote," said state Sen. Ron Tupa, a supporter of the amendment who has pushed to reform the state electoral system before. "This is empowering to voters."

However, some Republicans warn the measure is a bad idea that will shrink the state's power.

First of its kind

Campaigners for Kerry have been "trying to put Colorado into play," said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C. "Now they've got something to go after. In presidential elections, it's all about getting 270 Electoral College votes."

Calls that elections should be somehow more representational of voters came in the wake of the 2000 presidential race, when Bush lost the popular election, but won the Electoral College -- just the third time that had happened in U.S. history. Had Colorado had a system like what is being proposed in place, Al Gore would have won the White House by at least one electoral vote.

If Amendment 36 passes, it would be the first of its kind in the nation. Advocates for reforming the Electoral College will be watching the Colorado election closely, hoping to launch initiatives in other states, Tupa said.

But state GOP leadership is strongly opposed to the amendment. They warn the state's power will be watered down because presidential candidates would be vying for fewer electoral votes -- typically four or five instead of all nine, said Bill Ray, a spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party.

"It completely takes Colorado's influence in the election and strips it away," he said.

Party officials have asked lawyers to scour the amendment for a possible challenge before Election Day, he added.

Secret supporters

Meanwhile, Katy Atkinson, a consultant to the Republican Party and veteran of election politics, has set up a committee -- Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea -- to defeat the proposal.

The intent of the amendment is apparent, she said. "They are doing it this way, this year, to be of benefit to John Kerry."

Atkinson anticipates raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for television commercials, newspaper advertisements, mailings and other efforts to shoot down the proposal. The campaign is required to file its first campaign-finance report next month.

In a race that could be similar to 2000, the Cook Political Report has for months been predicting a "very, very close" presidential race across the country. Voters are polarized over what to do about the economy, jobs and war in Iraq.

Colorado's Amendment 36 supporters -- who call their committee the Make Your Vote for President Count -- say the measure shouldn't be seen in partisan terms. Though high-profile Republicans have not rallied, plenty of other GOP voters support the reform, said Julie Brown, the amendment's campaign manager.

Roughly 20 percent of the more than 130,000 signatures collected on petitions to place the reform on the ballot were signed by registered Republicans, she said.

"Some moderate Republican politicians expressed some interest in helping with the campaign, but as soon as [Gov. Bill Owens] came out against it, we lost them," Brown said. "Privately, they still say they support it."

Shooting for a million

Amendment backers have so far raised $410,250 -- all of it from Jorge Klor de Alva, president and CEO of Apollo International Inc., a Phoenix-based global education company supported by Apollo Group Inc., known for the University of Phoenix in the United States.

Klor de Alva, who supplied funds though a committee called The People's Choice for President, was not available for comment because he was out of state, Brown said. The bulk of funds that have so far come from the former Princeton and University of California-Berkeley professor were spent in getting petitions completed, she said.

Amendment 36 backers intend to raise at least another $500,000 for their campaign effort, she added.

Just two other states, Maine and Nebraska, distribute electoral votes differently than the rest of the nation. Their systems, unlike what is being proposed in Colorado, distribute electors depending on who gets the most votes in each congressional district. The top vote getter in those states also receives two at-large electoral votes.

-- Michael de Yoanna


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