Republicans Float Plan to Make Electoral College More Unfair


Republicans decide to go the dastardly route.

Since their across-the-board defeat in November, Republicans have talked a great game about reform and outreach, with presidential hopefuls Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal leading the charge. But the actual actions of the GOP belie this stated commitment to change. According to National Journal, for example, Republicans are planning a big push to change how states distribute their electoral votes. Currently, most states have a winner-take-all arrangement—if you win the majority of votes, you take all of the electoral votes.

For all but voters in deep red or dark blue states, this is unfair—the 48 percent of North Carolina voters who supported Barack Obama in this year’s election are all but irrelevant, since their votes play no part in the Electoral College distribution. Some reformers want to solve this problem with a national popular vote, others with nationwide proportional distribution of electoral votes.

Republicans, by contrast, want to “reform” the system by adopting the worst of all worlds—winner-take-all for Republican states, proportional distribution for Democratic ones:

Senior Republicans say they will try to leverage their party’s majorities in Democratic-leaning states in an effort to end the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes. Instead, bills that will be introduced in several Democratic states would award electoral votes on a proportional basis.

How would this have affected the past election? National Journal offers Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin as examples:

Obama won all three states in 2008, handing him 46 electoral votes…Final election results show that Romney won nine of Michigan’s 14 districts, five of eight in Wisconsin, and at least 12 of 18 in Pennsylvania. Allocate the two statewide votes in each state to Obama and that means Romney would have emerged from those three Democratic states with 26 electoral votes, compared with just 19 for Obama (and one district where votes are still being counted).

This is a massive redistribution of electoral votes away from the top vote getter and toward the candidate whose support happens to center in rural areas. In essence, it’s taking the Electoral College—which is already malapportioned—and making it more so. Indeed, it amounts to little more than a scheme to rig presidential elections in favor of GOP candidates.

After all, if the current immigration and migration patterns hold, most population increases will happen in already dense regions. Democratic cities and suburbs will become bluer, as Republican exurbs and rural counties stay reliably red. Under the scheme described by National Journal, the large bulk of Pennsylvania’s population could vote reliably Democratic, but because they’re concentrated in a handful of counties, Republicans would consistently win the most electoral votes.

One Republican, quoted in the piece, acknowledges this fact: “If you did the calculation, you’d see a massive shift of electoral votes in states that are blue and fully [in] red control,” he adds, “There’s no kind of autopsy and outreach that can grab us those electoral votes that quickly.”

And therein lies the point of this call for “reform.” Barring an external shock to the system, the electorate in 2016 and 2020 will be more liberal than the one in 2012, a product of more Latino voters—who tend to hold more liberal views on government—and a rising cohort of young voters, who, likewise, are more liberal than their older counterparts. Which means that the odds for a sweeping rollback of the welfare state are low and dropping.

Republicans have two choices for what they can do. They can moderate their policies and craft a conservatism that accepts the reality of the welfare state, or they can find ways to stem the inevitable, and try to stack the game in their favor.

I’m not sure if this is a significant push, and if it is, I doubt it will be successful—if anything, it seems like a surefire way to mobilize Democratic involvement in state races, and push Republicans out of statehouses nationwide. But it does reveal the extent to which Republicans are thinking far less about reform than what they’ve said in public.