Many Republicans, including RNC Chair Reince Priebus, think that it would be a good idea to change the way we award electoral college votes. A state is allocated electoral votes based on the number of Representatives and Senators they have. So Maine, with two Congresspeople and two Senators, gets four votes. In most states whoever wins the state gets all of that state’s electoral votes.
Republicans would like to change that to award electoral votes by district, which is currently the practice in Maine and Nebraska. So in Maine one vote goes to the winner of the first district, and one to the winner of the second. The final two go to whoever wins the most popular votes in the state.
However, there is a dark side to this idea. While Maine and Nebraska choose their system in a bi-partisan manner, without one party wanting to use a change in rules to rig the election in their favor, plans now are pushed only by the GOP with the specific goal of trying to improve their chance to win the Presidency, even if they lose the popular vote.
Simply, the purpose is to undermine the democratic will of the people so one party can get and hold on to power regardless of whether or not they have popular support. That is the kind of plot one expects to see in third world states rather than a country that claims to be the world’s greatest democracy.
As the maps above shows, even though President Obama easily won the popular vote by a four point margin, with a hefty 332 electoral votes, awarding them by district would have given Mitt Romney the Presidency. Democratic districts tend to be urban and overwhelmingly Democratic – sometimes over 90%, some precincts get no Republican votes! Republican districts in the suburbs and rural areas have a significant number of Democrats, rarely below 30%.
Another problem has been gerrymandering. That’s when the party in power redraws the districts with the intent of using district boundaries to make it easier for their party to win. Consider: the Democrats got far more votes for their candidates for the House of Representatives than did the Republicans. But the GOP easily maintained their majority of seats.
Virginia was the first state to seriously consider changing how it awards electoral votes after the 2012 election. The Republican party there hatched a plan to not only award electoral votes by district, but to give the two extra votes each state has (based on two Senators) to the person who won the most districts rather than to however won the popular vote. That would be different than the Nebraska and Maine systems, and mean that although President Obama won Virginia by 3%, he would have gotten only 4 electoral votes to Romney’s 9! Again, that’s the kind of shenanigans you’d expect in some banana republic.
The Virginia plan appears dead for now, thanks to opposition from two Republican State Senators and the Governor, but many said they didn’t like the timing rather than the idea. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are also considering such action – all of it very partisan and with intense opposition from the other side. Those are also “blue” states in which awarding by district would give the Republicans a majority of electoral votes.
What would the ramifications of the change be? If a few “blue” states changed their system then it would increase the chance for a Republican to win the Presidency in 2016, even if he or she fails to win the popular vote. But just as the cuts in early voting led to a backlash against the Republicans in states like Florida, the unintended consequences of such a move could hurt the GOP.
Democrats would be forced to compete more intensively in areas they now cede to the Republicans. That could ultimately expand the Democratic party and endanger currently safe Republican House members. Beyond that, state politics would be injected with more anger and partisanship.
One can imagine that Democrats would undo the changes if they managed to get power, and the issue could make it harder for parties to cooperate in times where problem solving is necessary. It is time for Republican leaders to say that changing the way we elect our President is a serious matter and should not be done on a partisan basis to try to use the rules to rig elections.
The Republicans should follow the lead of people like Bobby Jindal who recognize that the party needs to appeal to the majority, rather than looking to change the laws in order to grab power. It is a sign of desperation that some Republicans would even consider trying to change the rules so they can win power even if they can’t win vote. It is also an opening for people like Jindal to take the lead and recast the Republican party to be able to compete to win a majority of votes, not just electoral districts. America needs two strong, competitive parties.