DENVER – Colorado Republican Marcy Benson remembers getting calls four years ago from people asking if she was going to change her vote when she cast her ballot as a presidential elector.
For years, few paid much attention to the Electoral College (search). But in the close election of 2000, every vote counted in the battle between Republican George Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The GOP was worried that "faithless electors" might jump ship and vote for Gore.
"It surprised me that people thought I would change my vote," Benson said.
This year, the Electoral College system is getting a critical look even before the election from voters in Colorado. And what happens here could affect the outcome of the presidential fight between President Bush (search) and Democrat John Kerry (search).
On Nov. 2, voters will consider a proposal to immediately scrap the state's winner-take-all electoral vote system and allow candidates to keep a proportion of the delegates they win. In theory, a candidate could win 55 percent of the statewide vote and get only five of the state's nine electoral votes.
If the proposal had been in place four years ago, Gore would have earned enough electoral votes to go to the White House.
Only two other states divide electoral votes, Nebraska and Maine. Each gives two votes to the winner of each state, and the remaining votes are cast to show who won each congressional district.
Colorado would be the first state to allocate all its electoral votes proportionately according to the popular vote — something supporters say would make every vote count.
"When a winner gets 51 percent and the loser 49 percent, and you give all the electoral votes to the winning candidate, that's not representative government," said Julie Brown, a spokeswoman for sponsors of the initiative.
Republicans, who hold a 185,000 edge in registered voters over Democrats in Colorado, say the plan is a plot to take the state's nine electoral votes from Bush and give them to Kerry.
Katy Atkinson, a GOP pollster, said Colorado could end up always splitting its votes 5-4, in effect giving it one electoral vote. That would make the state a political backwater no candidate would waste time visiting.
"If this succeeds, we will become the least influential state in the country," said Atkinson, who helped found an opposition group that calls itself Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea (search).
Advocates of the idea in Colorado gathered 134,821 signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.
The Electoral College was criticized as unfair and outdated after the disputed 2000 presidential election, in which Gore won the vote of the people but narrowly lost to Bush in the Electoral College by a vote of 271-266.
Atkinson promised a court challenge if the Colorado measure passes to determine whether it can be applied retroactively.
That raises the possibility of a judge holding up Colorado's results in what is expected to be a tight race between Bush and Kerry. Secretary of State Donetta Davidson did not return calls for comment.
State Democratic Party chairman Chris Gates said the party has not taken a position on the initiative, but said the measure has little support.
"Many Democrats feel this state is in play and this is a state we can win. They think this is a way to give George Bush four electoral votes in Colorado," Gates said.
University of Colorado law professor Robert Dieter — one of the electors who sat around a desk in the office of Gov. Bill Owens (search) in 2000 to cast votes for Bush — said the system shouldn't be changed.
"The electoral college, for all of its flaws, is a necessary check and balance for ensuring that the president is elected from a dispersed geographical portion of the United States," he said. "The organizational plan of the founding fathers was to make sure we didn't have a system where a president could be elected simply based on popular votes from population centers."