Electoral College reform is in the air.
But rather than abolish the Electoral College to ensure that the national popular vote winner takes the presidency (or using the National Popular Vote compact to do the same without the laborious process of a Constitutional amendment), the reform that’s in the air would all but guarantee that the national popular vote runner up would take the White House.
Republicans in a variety of states — including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio — have raised the prospect of changing the way their states’ electoral votes are allocated in presidential elections. Instead of winner-take-all contests in which the candidate who wins the most votes in the state then wins that state’s electoral haul, some in the GOP want district-by-district races.
That way, in a state like Wisconsin, President Obama can beat Mitt Romney by over 200,000 popular votes, but when it came time for the electoral college, Obama and Romney would split Wisconsin’s electoral votes, five to five. Expand this to the national level and Obama would have finished 2012 with 5 million more popular votes than Romney, but Obama still would have lost the election thanks to gerrymandered districts.
It wasn’t so long ago, coming off a bruising presidential election, that Republicans were looking at ways to increase vote percentages among younger and minority voters to remain a contender in national elections. But it appears professional Republicans have decided that’s either impossible, unnecessary or perhaps just too hard. Because now they’re going for another possibility: rig the electoral college to insure Republican presidential victories with a decreasing voter base.
In other words, nuclear gerrymandering.
The plan is to game the electoral college to rig the system for Republicans. It works like this. Because of big victories in the 2010 midterm — and defending majorities in 2012 — Republicans now enjoy complete control of a number of midwestern states that usually vote Democratic in national (and increasingly in senatorial) elections. It may be temporary control but for now it’s total. Use that unified control in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania to change the system of electoral vote allocation from winner-take-all to proportional allotment.
People may not like the Electoral College, but they understand the rules — win the state, win the state’s Electoral votes. This scheme would be rigging the rules in favor of the minority party, and I suspect that it would change the complexion of the 2016 race in ways that I’m not sure the GOP would be prepared for.
Let’s suppose that the GOP rig the Electoral College so that even if Democrats win Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia it’s a net negative for the Democratic candidate in the Electoral Collge because the Republican candidate will net out more Electoral votes from that state due to gerrymandering.
This means that the Democrats will have to make a play for states that they’ve written off since the turn of the century. That means going hard for Texas, the south, the high plains, and the Rocky Mountains.
No, this strategy won’t win 2016 for them; these areas are still very Red. But it will lay the groundwork for the Democrats to win them in 2020 by building the local Democratic machinery and infusing these areas with Democratic ideas. That’s a long term thing — and it may also cause states that were on the fence about the National Popular Vote compact to pass it.
If the GOP gain the presidency by losing the popular vote nationwide and specifically losing the popular vote in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin while also winning a plurality of those states’ Electoral votes, there would be a widespread sense that the GOP didn’t play by the rules. Even in 2000, there was a sense that Bush had won, albeit on a technicality. This situation, however, would strike many as cheating, and the elected President would be seen by many as illegitimate.
As I pointed out here, five years ago, this concept isn’t bad, so long as every state does it and apportionment is done not by congressional district but by percentages so that the Electoral vote apportionment reflects the actual vote within the state. But to implement this system only in states that have voted for the Democratic candidate and to apportion the votes along the partisan lines of the Congressional districts will invite electoral chaos and outrage.