Will Republicans finally break the electoral college?

Mapping a Republican win. The new system proposed by Republicans for revamping the electoral college would have produced a victory for Mitt Romney in 2012, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote. Source: HuffingtonPost

In Boxers know that I’m no fan of the electoral college system, with its clumsy 18th century muddle of ideas and imbalances.

The system already shifts huge amounts of voting power away from the states where most Americans actually live, while boosting the voting power of rural states in some cases three-fold.

Because of the unequal geographic distribution of racial groups in America, this phenomenon empowers white communities, while diminishing the influence of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

In a democracy, there’s almost no good excuse for giving one group of people more inherent weight or power than another group of people, particularly in the voting booth.

So it’s with mixed emotions that I note that Republicans may finally be pushing an idea that will finally, at long last, break the electoral college, making is so untenable that repeal will be unavoidable.

As I say, the electoral college already redistributes voting power away from high population states, such as California, New York, Texas, Florida and Ilinois, gifting that clout to states such as North Dakota, Montana and Vermont.

Now, some conservative activists want to tilt the playing field even further, allocating electoral college votes based not on the voting results in states, but by the voting results in congressional districts.

Because so many House districts have been aggressively gerrymandered to favor Republicans, the change would make it incredibly difficult for any Democrat to win the White House.

How difficult?

A convincing analysis by HuffingtonPost found that the 2012 election would have produced a Mitt Romney win, under the system proposed by Republicans, despite the fact that Barack Obama drew 3.5 million more votes.

If that sounds improbable, consider this:  Democrats in House elections nationwide drew far more votes last year than Republicans

Yet because the district lines have been cunningly drawn by conservatives, the GOP maintained a sizable majority.

By grafting the gerrymandered congressional map onto the already tilted electoral college system, you would produce a Frankenstein democracy.

A minority of Republican-leaning voters in rural and suburban white districts would control our national politics.

Democrats are, unsurprisingly, outraged.  This from the Washington Post.

“They can’t appeal to a majority of voters, whether it’s here in Wisconsin or Michigan or in the rest of the Midwest, so they are undermining a majority of voters,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has expressed interest in changing the state’s system.

“The Republicans realize that where they are today, they can’t win a presidential election. It’s an audacious attempt to rig the system.”

In the short term, I suspect that Republicans will feel a certain buyer’s remorse at flirting with this kind of short-term, cynical skew-the-playing-field gamesmanship.

In the last election, conservative efforts at voter suppression appear to have produced the opposite effect, mobilizing and energizing voters.  This latest stunt can only further alienate black, Hispanic and Asian voters from the GOP.

But in the longer term, I wonder if this effort to hotwire the electoral college won’t finally discredit it entirely.

When Americans see that the principle of one-person-one-vote is threatened — and it is, in this case — they may demand the kind of big reforms that have gradually produced a more democratic nation.

We expanded voting rights to younger people in 1971, eliminated voting bans for delinquent taxes in 1964, limited the terms of presidential service in 1947, allowed women to vote in 1920 and mandated direct elections of US Senators in 1913.

That’s a long, honorable legacy.  Dissolving the electoral college might be the next step in insuring that ours remains a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

63 Comments on “Will Republicans finally break the electoral college?”

  1. Marcus says:

    I wish everyone would just stop pointing out all the problems with the Republicans positions on anything and eveything. I think they are doing just fine and everyone should just leave them alone, let them figure out their own agenda.

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  2. Paul says:

    Marcus the democrats have said that it is now their best chance to destroy the enemy! Maybe they are right. The republicans would do the same thing.

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  3. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Brian, first off we aren’t a democracy, we are a republic. That’s an important distinction you need to understand. Secondly, if you get rid of the Electoral College our 7 largest cities will effectively control the nation. If they, as urbanites, decide to elect a guy who proposes outlawing private property ownership or some other nutty idea the rest of the nation is powerless to stop it. The system is designed with checks and balances and it’s a good system. The tweaking I would do, if any, would be to do as some states do and award EC votes as a percentage, ie- is the Dem got 60% of the votes in a state he’d get 60% of that states EC votes, not 100%. That is a more equitable division than I think exist at present.

    You should also look into the gerrymandering thing a bit more since Democrats have gerrymandered some unreal districts. You make it sound as though it’s purely a Republican practice which is, as you say, factually inaccurate.

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  4. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Marcus, the Republican party is dead. They just don’t know it yet. They did it to themselves. I have high hopes a better option will rise form the ashes and give me someone to vote for rather than voting against the liberal.

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  5. Brian Mann says:

    Rancid –

    This distinction between a democracy and a republic is a clumsy one. Semantics aside, if we have a system where a minority of voters rules over a majority of voters, it’s neither a republic nor a democracy.

    You say that our ‘seven largest cities will effectively control the nation.’ I’m not sure your math quite holds up, but again, it’s semantics. A majority of Americans would control the nation through their votes.

    Gerrymandering is a bipartisan phenomenon, to be sure. But in modern America, the impact and sophistication of Republican district-shaping far outweighs that of Democrats.

    The evidence? Democrats won far more votes in House elections in 2012, but still fell far short of winning a majority of seats.

    To return to my original point, that is neither democratic nor representative.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  6. Brian Mann says:

    One additional point in response to RC’s post.

    One of the unfortunate things about the current conservative mindset is that voters who tend to choose Democratic candidates are “lost.”

    They are “takers” or “low information” or members of the “47%”. RC’s post suggests that this radical group of individuals might impose their will upon the American majority — the part of the country that many conservatives describe as “real.”

    There are two problems with this formulation. First, it’s not accurate. Republicans historically competed very well in urban America, and won large numbers of black and Hispanic votes. We’re talking as recently as George W. Bush.

    Secondly, by choosing to downplay the approachability of urban, minority voters, conservatives are driven away from the old tools of representative democracy (argument, discussion, compromise, bridge-building, etc.) and driven toward much more dangerous tools (voter suppression, system rigging, etc.)

    This is a debate that’s now underway within the GOP. Do we try to talk to those people, or do we try to use our archaic system to minimize their impact on the nation’s politics?

    If we got rid of the electoral college, this dilemma would be removed As RC suggests, the Republican Party would have to return to its roots of competing for urban votes. Which would be a good thing.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  7. JDM says:

    “Because of the unequal geographic distribution of racial groups in America, this phenomenon empowers white communities, while diminishing the influence of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.”

    This discussion isn’t about race, unless you want to force it to be that way.

    When the country was mostly “white Europeans”, the Irish were despised. So were the Italians. The Jews. The Blacks. The Asians. The Polish. The Germans. The Russians.

    Your only solution is to make the Whites the target of discrimination.

    Hey, wait a minute. That’s discriminatory, too.

    You cannot solve discrimination by shifting the discrimination to the Whites.

    This isn’t about race, anyway.

    The electoral college system favors smaller states, period. No one is stopping any minority from living in a smaller state.

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  8. The Original Larry says:

    Too bad the Republicans just don’t cede control of the government to the Democrats and all go home. The idea that a NATIONAL majority should produce control of the entire government is completely insane. The Presidential election is a national election, by states. Senators are elected state by state. The House is elected by local district. As always, the Constitution provides some checks and balances against abuse by any group or group of states. Is there any aspect of the Constitution that isn’t open to change so that liberals can do exactly what they falsely accuse conservatives of doing?

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  9. Peter Hahn says:

    You would think they would try to expand their appeal rather than try to game the system by every more creative ways. What they are doing comes pretty close to voter fraud.

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  10. Rancid Crabtree says:

    What is so hard to understand Brian? In a democracy 50.0000001% wins and the other side loses entirely unless the winners feel magnanimous. In a republic the 50.000000001% can win, but they don’t get the right to slaughter the 49.0000009%. Protection of all parties involved, representation of all parties, that whats important about a republic and why we have an EC.

    It only takes 11 states to win the White House using the EC Brian. You can win 39 states and DC and still lose though. I admit to using a dated figure of “our 7 largest cities” and I don’t really want to do the math myself. About 126 million voted in 2012. Using that figure it would only take 63 million to win. That means a block of eastern states could carry the election, or southern states, or western states. If you had what many of us would like to see, viable 3rd party candidates, it wouldn’t even take 63 mill, maybe just 21.1 million and that’s NY, LA and a coupe smaller cities. It could conceivably one day mean that hispanics could control the vote entirely, or blacks or whites or asians. Is that healthy? What you propose basically disenfranchises people Brian. I know it seems logical that the guy with the most votes should win, but it isn’t set up that way for a reason. It’s set up so that all states have a voice. If we follow your logic then we should do away with the Senate too since each state has equalr representation there. Does that sound like a good idea.

    I would urge you to look into why we have the system we do. Start with why people defend the EC- http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/defense-electoral-college
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/10/22/electoral-college-presidential-election/1650491/

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  11. The Original Larry says:

    Which Republicans have advocated these changes? Which states have had legislation introduced to effect these changes? Where have Republicans “gamed” elections? The fraud here is liberal rhetoric and “reporting” of things “everyone knows”. Funny, but I couldn’t find anything on this topic in the New York Times.

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  12. Walker says:

    “…our 7 largest cities will effectively control the nation.”

    A fact-free assertion: the population of our seven largest cities is a bit over 21 million. If you make it our seven largest metropolitan areas, you’ve got only a bit under 67 million.

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  13. Walker says:

    “If you had what many of us would like to see, viable 3rd party candidates, it wouldn’t even take 63 mill, maybe just 21.1 million and that’s NY, LA and a coupe smaller cities.”

    Well, yeah, if they start letting 3 year olds vote. You’ve got that little problem of the voting age. Then there’s the fact that even in those dreadful east coast enclaves, there are a surprising number of unprogressive voters.

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  14. The Original Larry says:

    Thanks for the link to a most interesting article, Peter. I especially liked the very last paragraph which indicated that this isn’t the first time such changes have been proposed. The Democrats proposed similar changes, back when they were losers. For the record, I do not advocate any changes to the Electoral College.

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  15. Pete Klein says:

    I wouldn’t object to getting rid of the electoral college if it were just about switching to the total popular vote.
    What the Republicans are suggesting is rigging the system.
    This is so typical of little boys wanting to change the rules when losing.
    This is the problem with the Republican Party. It is filled with little boys and girls.

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  16. “the 2012 election would have produced a Mitt Romney win, under the system proposed by Republicans, despite the fact that Barack Obama drew 3.5 million more votes.”

    If the winner of the popular vote were that important, we wouldn’t have the Electoral College in the first place.

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  17. I read an analysis that pointed out that Obama won like 51% in Ohio but would’ve gotten only 22% of the electoral votes under this system, as opposed to 100% under the current system. I’m not sure that 51=100 is any more fair than 51=22.

    A fair system (within the inherently idiotic EC) would in this case allocate Obama 51% of the state’s “House” electoral votes plus the two “Senate” electoral votes. But it’s not about being fair.

    Not that the Dems are in a position to moralize. It’s not like they’re pushing for the truly fair alternative: scrapping the EC altogether.

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  18. JDM says:

    Pete Klein: “This is the problem with the Republican Party. It is filled with little boys and girls.”

    And I whole-heartedly agree. And so does Bobby Jindal in this article below.

    “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/louisiana-gov-bobby-jindal-gop-must-stop-being-stupid-party/2013/01/24/d06d5ea6-6690-11e2-889b-f23c246aa446_story.html

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  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Too bad the Republicans just don’t cede control of the government to the Democrats and all go home.”

    Not a bad idea Larry!

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Those of you who want to run the Electoral College by voting district, I have a $Trillion dollar coin to sell you. 10% discount. Good deal! You should think about it. Act quick, supplies are limited.

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  21. Phil Brown says:

    Most people agree that whoever gets the most votes should win the election. Nothing is more basic to a democracy (or democratic republic). Therefore, the Electoral College should be abolished. It is an anachronism. If you believe in democracy there is no good argument for it. None. The difficulty is that the small states would not agree to amend the Constitution to get rid of the damn thing. After the debacle of Bush-Gore, I read of an elegant solution to this problem. A state can act on its own to adopt a law requiring that all of the state’s electoral college votes go the candidate who got most votes nationwide, regardless of how the people voted in the state. If enough of the big states passed such a law, the electoral college would be moot. I don’t know what happened to that movement.

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  22. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Walker, if you really want, as soon as I can, I’ll do the stupid math for you. Shame on me for using a dated quote. The point is that the States elect the President, not the people. Read your history. States rights. It was done for a reason, to help ensure the north or south or some group of states wouldn’t run rough shod over the others.

    You know, it’s funny. We have people telling us the EC is outdated and stupid, that the urban and sub-urban people should be running things wince there are more of them, that the “fly over” states don’t matter. Yet, back when the EC was written and for over 175 years at least most of our nation was rural and agricultural. Using the logic presented shouldn’t the gov’ts of the day have squashed the concerns of the urban areas? Shouldn’t all the elections have gone to the guy supporting the rural views? Looking back through our nations history it doens’t appear that ever happened. In fact just the opposite seems to have occurred over the time period in question. Could it be maybe this outdated, stupid system actually works pretty well?

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  23. Rancid Crabtree says:

    There you go Phil! Then all it would take is 11 big states to win the election. Boy oh boy!!! Is that democracy or what?!!!!

    We don’t live in a democracy Phil, we live in a republic. Read your history, educate yourself on why it was set up like that. People forget the Founders watched the French Revolution. That was true democracy in action!

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  24. hermit thrush says:

    Then all it would take is 11 big states to win the election.

    this kind of line gets trotted out all the time. and the kind of innumeracy behind it is really something. believe it or not, state populations do not vote uniformly for one candidate or another. populations in individual cities do not vote uniformly for one candidate or another. i mean, pop quiz: in which state did romney get the most votes?

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  25. Rancid Crabtree says:

    It doesn’t matter if everyone in a state votes the same Thrush. What matters is numbers in a democracy. All you have to get is 50.0000001% and you win. If those 11 states did somehow vote uniformly, would it be right if that swung the election? That’s the question. Should 11 or 15 or 20 states be able to control the other states? It happens more or less already, true, but do you want to legalize and kill off any say the smaller population has? Look at election maps now. A relatively small portion of our nation controls the rest of it, just as NYC controls NY State. Bloomberg in NYC doesn’t give a rats whisker about what happens in Morehouse NY, or Chazy, Warrensburg, Malone, Dekalb Jct, or Watertown. Does anyone think Shelly Silver worries about dairy farmers or motel owners outside NYC? Does anyone really buy Andy Cuomo in a red paid shirt means he’s a local yokel shopping for bargains at Save a Lot? He has no more interest in anything outside NYC and the greater NYC/LI area than Silver does. It’s all a stepping stone to the WH. Same thing on the national scale. What does Harry Reid care about NH, Vt, ND or Rhode Is? Not a thing. But the EC, and the Senate, assure the states representation in elections and decision making. Neither the EC or the Senate make sense forma democracy standpoint. The popular vote should decide things and the House should be all that’s needed. Think about it. There is a reason our nation was defined and established as a republic and not a democracy.

    Ya know, this is another case of short sighted people deciding to throw our rights away because it doesn’t suit their interests.

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  26. hermit thrush says:

    Look at election maps now. A relatively small portion of our nation controls the rest of it, just as NYC controls NY State.

    i’m pretty sure it’s that all men (or better, people) are created equal, not all land.

    if that “relatively small” portion contains more people, then — tautologically, for what we’re talking about — it’s actually relatively big.

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  27. Paul says:

    “”Too bad the Republicans just don’t cede control of the government to the Democrats and all go home.”

    Not a bad idea Larry!”"

    I think that democrats are in a position to overplay the hand they have been dealt. That was pretty fast.

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  28. Paul says:

    Someone makes a good point above. How would a switch ever be approved by the states that get screwed?? It is a non-issue.

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  29. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Dont worry Paul, Democrats have shown themselves again and again to be unwilling to overplay their hand.

    Obama in any negotiation with the Republicans you care to name.
    Filibuster reform? No, they worked out a compromise with Republicans.
    !4th Amendment or trillion dollar coin, no.

    Besides it was Larry’s idea fro the Republicans to all go home, not the Dems’.

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  30. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Thrush, the point is that a few geographical areas aren’t supposed to control the whole nation. We are States first, United States 2nd. Each State and it’s people are supposed to be represented and considered, otherwise it’s just east and west coat urban areas running the whole show. That is not how the system was designed or intended.

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  31. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Doesn’t matter what the Founders thought; once we could easily pick up and move to another state (and most people do it at one time or another) we are Americans first, as in United States of America. We don’t pledge allegiance to the flag of New York State.

    Of course I have my own Pledge that seems much more sensible, anyway.

    “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America.” Short and sweet and not full of all that other baloney.

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  32. Two Cents says:

    “People forget the Founders watched the French Revolution. That was true democracy in action!”

    the american revolution was ended 6 years before the french revolution began in 1789. that would mean they watched (our founders) but they were done ratifying the constitution, so i doubt the french revolution had much effect since it hadd’nt happened!

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  33. Two Cents says:

    It’s the word “constitution” that prevents abuse of individual rights, not the word “republic”.

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  34. mervel says:

    Can individual states switch to this method though without national approval?

    So take a swing state that also has Republican districts in the House. The Republicans in those states may push this and possibly win.

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  35. mervel says:

    Or more importantly take Texas. Texas will likely become majority blue in the next 10-15 years based on voting trends and population growth. However the House Districts are of course gerrymandered. So if they switched to this method they could possibly preserve a Red State much much longer than normally would happen.

    When the GOP loses Texas in Presidential elections it is all over for them, they will never win another Presidential election the math is just no there. So this plan may really be about just one or two states.

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  36. Two Cents says:

    if gerrymandering is gone, will the change make the ec work?
    representatives should be elected along existing state, county boundries like senators are, not drawn, and re-drawn districts.
    if gerrymandering is the problem, then why is the reaction to abolish the ec ?
    get rid of the problem, the outcome should change naturally no?

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  37. mervel says:

    You would still end up with gerrymandered districts even if you used counties. The issue is using politicians to draw districts, no one is going to draw themselves or their party out of a job. They need an unelected independent commission or better yet use a set formula based on a variety of factors.

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  38. Two Cents says:

    nobody gets to draw anything. use town lines – existing town lines-
    the point being these lines exist, no need to let anybody re-draw.
    if a special commission has to be made then that is prone to the same corruption of a system.
    anytime a special commission has to be made to do anything, i say thats a red flag
    the problem is when we try to re-draw. stop re-drawing.
    the lines exist, that can be used, drawn long ago, with out the slight to one party or the other intended.

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  39. mervel says:

    But which town lines? How many towns for this guy and how many for that? County lines don’t fit our legislature there would be too many people in the legislature and once again it would be biased as some states have counties that are really large and some that are small with no relation to population density. The lines we have now would not really solve the basic issue of gerrymandering.

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  40. Walker says:

    You might want to take a look at California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Granted it’s pretty new, and might just go to hell in a few years, but

    “California now has some of the most competitive districts in the nation, creating opportunities for new elected officials. For example, the uncertainty caused by the new districts combined with California’s “top two” primary system has resulted in half a dozen resignations of incumbent Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle, a major shake-up of California’s Capitol Hill delegation. In addition, it has forced a number of intra-party races, most notably a showdown between two of the state’s most powerful House Democrats, Representatives Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. In the previous 10 years, incumbents were so safe that only one Congressional seat changed party control in 255 elections, due to bi-partisan gerrymandering after the redistricting following the 2000 Census.”

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  41. Two Cents says:

    how is it done for senators? why should it be any different?

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  42. mervel says:

    Well the constitution gets in the way.

    However, lets just say that we elected our representatives within each state in an at-large way as you suggest. So say NY has 29 representatives right now. If we elected them as we do senators in a state wide election with the top 29 people getting the most votes going to congress how would that work for us in the north country?

    Now maybe that is ok to have all of our representatives be from the City, it is where most of our population in NYS lives.

    I just don’t think people would go for it, in general people like having a representative in Congress that is from their local area.

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  43. Rancid Crabtree says:

    2 cents, the Bill of Rights was not ratified until almost 1792. Look into the writings of Gouverneur Morris, a US statesman who was in France in 1789 and Thomas Paines reflections on the lead up to the French Revolution. This affected the way the BoR was written and the thinking of others like Jefferson and further affected the early decisions on how the US gov’t would be working in day to day practice. In fact, Jefferson was so appalled by the French Revolution and Napoleans rise that he stated the US should seek alliance with Britain, the nation we’d just fought a few years before. The US Revolution had given rise to the French Revolution in a way and the differences between the two were readily apparent to the observers of the day. To say there was no affect on the Founders thinking goes against both historical record and common sense.

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  44. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Two Cents says:
    January 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    nobody gets to draw anything. use town lines – existing town lines-
    the point being these lines exist, no need to let anybody re-draw.
    if a special commission has to be made then that is prone to the same corruption of a system.
    anytime a special commission has to be made to do anything, i say thats a red flag
    the problem is when we try to re-draw. stop re-drawing.
    the lines exist, that can be used, drawn long ago, with out the slight to one party or the other intended.”

    Remember that Constitution thing you were talking about? Congressional Districts are by law based on population, not geographical lines.

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  45. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Two Cents says:
    January 26, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    how is it done for senators? why should it be any different?”

    Uh…..each state gets 2 Senators. Gerrymandering has nothing to do with it.

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  46. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Mervel, if all our Reps came from the city we would be right back to the taxation without representation thing!

    You guys want an end to gerrymandering, so do I. Best bet is a bi-partisan commission of some sort. The problem is finding honorable people with enough character to avoid the bribes and pressure incumbent with such a responsibility and with such power.

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  47. Walker says:

    “Best bet is a bi-partisan commission of some sort.”

    Something we agree on! Though an interesting approach that has been suggested is to develop a computer program to define the districts. It would have to be tinker-proof and bomb-proof though.

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  48. Two Cents says:

    “Uh…..each state gets 2 Senators. Gerrymandering has nothing to do with it.”

    uh…exactly my point.

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  49. mervel says:

    Maybe gerrymandering isn’t bad? Why do we think it is bad other than we can’t get rid of the pesky minority of Republicans who keep getting in the way of the Presidents agenda? To me that sounds like Democracy as shown in our constitution, preventing the herd mentality of the majority from trampling the rights of all of these regional minorities.

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