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. Two Cents says:

    setting up legislation districts to try to meet a more personalized representation of a congressman/woman to that district, only plays into the temptation to rig it for ones favor over another.
    do you rally feel like your congressman/woman is so in touch with you, because they’re from the neighborhood, that they vote your conscience?
    this is the grass root of special interests.
    are my needs greater or equal to anothers?
    the one voice, one vote theory has been shot to heck.
    bret/rancid, nice thought you have.” bi- partisen”, “commission”, those words to me translate to too much spent for too little resolved.

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  2. mervel says:

    There is nothing magical about 51% of the people being able to run roughshod over 49% of the people, pure Democracy is horrible the rule of the mob does not have a great history particularly in the US. Think about the first democracy we experience as we grow up, the high school home coming King and Queen, the High school president, are these the kinds of people we want impacting our lives? Popularity has its uses but it should not be determinative. Hitler was elected by popular vote, he was very popular, his programs were very popular, there is nothing inherently just or good about Democracy without protections for minority voices and protections of individual rights, and liberty. US politicians from what I have seen are not overly bright people in general, their power should be limited.

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  3. mervel says:

    One person one voice in a country of 300 million people means your voice is statistically zero.

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  4. Walker says:

    “Maybe gerrymandering isn’t bad? Why do we think it is bad…”

    Gerrymandering is bad because it is an intentional violation of the principle of one man, one vote– it makes some votes more equal than others. That’s it’s sole purpose.

    It also makes gerrymandered seats into life tenancies– something that no one other than the incumbents really wants to see. Of course, since it’s up to the incumbents to change the system, it’ll be a snowy day in Key West before you see it changed.

    But then there’s the courts. I really don’t understand why they haven’t put a stop to it. Any thoughts?

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  5. Walker says:

    “One person one voice in a country of 300 million people means your voice is statistically zero.”

    Well, yeah, but one person one vote in a country of one million means your voice is statistically zero. It is the cumulative total of voters that determines outcomes.

    “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” –Winston Churchill

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  6. Mervel says:

    I think the courts have got into this via civil rights. So the cases where the courts have stepped in to stop gerrymandering have been in states that are subject to the Voting Rights Act. I think a case could be made that all gerrymandering would be a violation of civil rights regardless of if historical racism was present and thus maybe the courts will take it on that way? I think the courts will be the most likely place this will be remedied. The hard part is to really identify when a district is gerrymandered and when it is not. It would cut both ways, we have districts that are now gerrymandered to insure a racial or ethnic minority is elected, those individuals would likely lose their seats if the district was not divided in such a way. They would be against not gerrymandering.

    It is not a cut and dried sort of thing and I think it will be very hard to get rid of. I think it is more likely that we dump the electoral college than it is we really get rid of gerrymandered districts in the House.

    As far as Democracy goes, yes we have to have it is a core principle, but what do we mean by Democracy is the question? What limits do we put on Democracy to protect the interests of the individual and groups? We have limits now, the Senate is not a pure Democracy, the Supreme Court is not directly Democratic, the Federal Reserve is not Directly Democratic. There are a bunch of different things that we have in our government that intentionally mitigate the idea of one person one vote.

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  7. Mervel says:

    The President is the only national office that we really have I would be in favor of looking at ways to move toward that becoming closer to one person one vote, a pure Democracy with a simple majority being the deciding factor in who we elect. I think getting rid of the electoral college would be the best way to do that.

    Given that the Office of the President is already constrained through the Senate, through the House through the Supreme Court, I think enough protections are already present for the individual and minority groups (including geographical minorities) that we should truly have this office be determined by one person one vote simple majority.

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  8. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Just switch to popular vote! That’s how every other office holder in this country is elected. I don’t see why the presidency should be chosen differently. The person who more people vote for, wins. How hard is that?

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  9. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Jezze. How many ways can you say it? We need the EC to protect the republic. It’s law, it’s a good idea. I can absolutely guarantee that if Gore had won the EC and Bush the popular vote there would be no discussion of ending the EC. I can guarantee if it was an “R” in office and minority of D’s from gerrymandered districts were holding him up it would be viewed as “democracy in action” by those calling for an end to the EC and gerrymandering. It’s 100% political.

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  10. hermit thrush says:

    geez, get a life, rancid. some of are quite capable of seeing that it’s unfair for the candidate with fewer votes to win, no matter which party s/he is in.

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  11. Marlo Stanfield says:

    If Gore won the electoral college and Bush the popular vote — which some people did think was a possibility — I think we absolutely would be talking about reforming the Electoral College. The republicans had contingency plans to get some electors to switch sides and vote for Bush should this happen.

    Small states aren’t necessarily just rural, or conservative states, and they don’t all have some sort of interest in common other than whatever historical accidents made them smaller than other states — look at New England, their power gets exaggerated by the EC too. If you got rid of it the minority vote in all states, large and small, would actually matter. The number of New Yorkers who voted for Romney is probably higher than the number of people who voted for him in a lot of small states he carried, but since New York always goes Democratic their votes didn’t count for anything. All the electoral college does is make sure most states, solidly in one column or the other, don’t matter, and makes the election comes down to a handful of swing states. I don’t think getting rid of the electoral college would be perfect, but I think it’s fairer than letting Florida and Ohio pick the president every time.

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  12. mervel says:

    I agree.

    We do have many protections already for small and rural states, starting with the US Senate.

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  13. mervel says:

    Right now where I grew up in South Dakota they have more Senators than Representatives. So with 830,000 people they have two US Senators, the same size as Texas or California the two largest states in the union with 38 million people in California and 26 million in Texas (NY is a distant third at 19 million). So these 830,000 people get the same representation in a very powerful body as the 38 million people in California.

    I think we have some pretty strong protections for rural states.

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