Thursday, October 7, 2004

DENVER — The presidential candidate who wins a majority of the vote in Colorado next month could take all nine of the state’s electoral votes, or he could take five.

It all depends on the outcome of Amendment 36, a state ballot measure that would make Colorado the first state in the nation to split its electoral votes proportionally, replacing the state’s winner-take-all system.

Amendment 36 was written to take effect this year, which means its effect would be felt immediately. That means, for example, that even if President Bush wins a majority of the vote, Sen. John Kerry still could snare as many as four electoral votes.

Such a division would have prevented either presidential candidate from garnering the required 270 electoral votes in 2000, sending the election to the House of Representatives. A similar split also could determine the outcome in this year’s close race, a detail not lost on national politicos, who will be watching the vote on Amendment 36 closely.

Coloradans will accept or reject the measure on Nov. 2, the same day as the presidential vote.

So far, the pros are running ahead of the cons. A statewide Ciruli Associates poll found 51 percent in favor of the measure and 37 percent against it. The rest were undecided.

“We believe this will increase voter turnout. If you ask people why they don’t vote, they’ll say, ‘It’s because my vote doesn’t count,’ ” said Julie Brown, director of Make Your Vote for President Count, the pro-Amendment 36 group.

Analysts note that the race is still young. The anti-36 forces, led by Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, argue that the measure would destroy Colorado’s national influence.

Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli predicted that the measure’s popularity would drop below 50 percent, now that the opposition is weighing in.

“I think it will have a very difficult time passing,” Mr. Ciruli said. “The Republican Party is uniformly against, there are some Democrats against it, the governor is raising money against it, and the editorial pages are coming out against it.”

The fear is that a proportional system of allocating electoral votes would make Colorado irrelevant nationally by turning it into a state with a net vote total of one. Although Republican voters hold the edge in Colorado, there are enough Democrats to make nearly every statewide race a 55 percent to 45 percent split.

“If you’re a presidential candidate with any sanity, you’re going to look at Colorado and say, ‘If I do nothing, I’ll still get four electoral votes, so why should I do anything?’ ” said Katy Atkinson, the Republican political consultant who leads the opposition group Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea.

At a debate yesterday sponsored by the Arapahoe Republican Men’s Club, Ms. Atkinson argued that the state’s influence in Congress also would dwindle to practically nothing.

That could prove disastrous for the state on issues ranging from public land use to base closures.

“All things being equal, if they’re choosing between Arizona with 10 electoral votes and Colorado with one net vote, who do you think they’re going to choose?” she said. “Colorado would become the least significant state in the nation.”

Supporters of Amendment 36 argue that a victory in Colorado would spread the campaign nationwide.

“Right now, if you’re a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas, your vote is ignored,” Ms. Brown said.

Opponents also see the proportional system as a plot to weaken the clout of the so-called “red” Republican-leaning states. They note that Amendment 36 wasn’t homegrown, but was the brainchild of J. Jorge Klor de Alva, a wealthy Californian who has contributed almost $700,000 to the measure.

At the debate, real estate agent Bob Scheid drew cheers when he accused the Amendment 36 proponents of conducting a California-led “power play.”

“The Electoral College protects middle America from the East Coast liberals and the West Coast, morally bankrupt Hollywood types,” Mr. Scheid said. “This is their power play — they know they’re not winning elections, and they want to change that.”

Ms. Atkinson threw fuel on the fire by saying that the Boston Globe had endorsed the measure. In Colorado, meanwhile, several newspapers, including the liberal Boulder Daily Camera, have urged a no vote on Amendment 36.

“It’s the quest for pure, raw political power by the left,” said an Aug. 3 editorial in the Pueblo Chieftain.

At the debate, several people argued against tampering with the Constitution, but Ms. Brown noted that the Electoral College system wasn’t instituted until the early 1800s.

“We’ve evolved,” she said. “We didn’t let women or African-Americans vote back then, either.”

Two states, Maine and Nebraska, have a proportional system that divvies votes according to the outcome of the presidential race by congressional district.

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