Political Animal


January 15, 2013 4:51 PM A “Proportional Electoral Vote” Power Grab?

By Ed Kilgore

I haven’t paid much attention to talk among Republicans about changing the electoral-vote allocation system in battleground states won by Obama in 2008 and 2012 because I figured it was a bluff: it was too controversial and too subject to reversal by Democrats, unless you think Republicans will be able to perpetually hold power at the state level in states (like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) that tend to go Democratic in presidential elections.

Now I’m beginning to reconsider this dismissive attitude, based on a comment by George Mason University elections expert Michael McDonald quoted in a piece on the subject by National Journal’s Reid Wilson:

Tweaks of electoral-vote rules are hardly unprecedented, according to Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University. State legislatures routinely changed Electoral College allocation rules in the early years of the Republic; the political fallout then can inform present-day lawmakers considering the changes.
“State legislative elections became tantamount to the presidential election in a state. Local issues were put aside for presidential politics,” McDonald said. “These states legislators thus risk the nationalization of their state politics, to the detriment of their personal careers. State legislators learned that once they fixed the Electoral College rules, national politics no longer dominated state elections.”

Hmm. That sounds less like a bug than a feature if you’re a Republican, at least in those states where control of the governorship and at least one state legislative chamber is typically determined during midterm elections. The effect of the “proportional electoral vote system” is to project congressional gerrymandering into the presidential results. The effect of state influence over presidential elections is to project state legislative gerrymandering as well; both sets of gerrymanders currently favor Republicans in the states we are talking about. Moreover, at a time when the electorate in presidential years leans Democratic while the electorate in midterms leans Republican, anything Republicans can to do make midterm elections more influential nationally is a big plus.

These proportional EV schemes might still go nowhere, but I’m less inclined now to believe that Republicans wouldn’t take some risks in pursuing them. Democrats would be wise to keep their atennas up on this subject, and scream bloody murder if Republicans actually begin to move in this direction in any states.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on January 15, 2013 5:07 PM:

    Despite where they live, Republicans are all fans of Al Davis's Oakland Raider motto:
    "Just WIN, baby!"

    Party over country!
    PARTY UBER ALLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Guscat on January 15, 2013 5:13 PM:

    What obviously makes this even worse is the fact that it only seems to be aimed at states that went for Obama in 2012, there is no similar push to say do this for Texas. Also, I am sure that some people will point to Maine and Nebraska as states that already have this in place, but these are small states in which it would be impossible for a candidate to get the majority of the electoral college votes for that state without winning the state so the impact of gerrymandering would be slight. The best one could hope for is a losing candidate might be able to win 2 electoral votes in Nebraska but whomever carried the state would win a majority of that state's votes. With this system, however, it would be entirely possible for Romney say to lose Pennsylvania but still get more votes. Of course these proposals reflect the fact that it's starting to sink in on the Republicans that they may be in the wilderness when it comes to presidential elections for the foreseeable future, that this party could be like the Democratic Party from the Civil War to the New Deal when they only held the presidency for 16 years.

  • JMG on January 15, 2013 5:24 PM:

    Two obvious problems with this plan. It's bound to be unpopular (people hate "power grabs") so if you do it in 2013, you might lose power in 2013. If you wait until 2015, you might not have total control needed.
    It's asking state pols to take a significant risk for the benefit of the national party for no reward. They're Republicans, so the psychic reward of screwing Democrats and the "others" might be enough, but even for Republican state legislators, that's a pretty thin reward for the risk of sudden private sector re-entry.

  • Federal Offense on January 15, 2013 7:05 PM:

    It's really bad in Pennsylvania. The governor is taking it upon himself as if dictator and is now selling the state lottery to a corporate operation overseas. A seemingly one term governor privatizing a major state asset belonging to its citizens by saying he can.
    There's a vast right wing conspiracy alive and well in PA.

  • anonymoose on January 15, 2013 7:24 PM:

    The lame duck shenanigans that the Repubs pulled in Michigan may cause them to lose control of the governorship and one of the state chambers. What better way to lose all three than pull a stunt by changing the electoral college rules?

  • weirdnoise on January 15, 2013 7:44 PM:

    It's time for Democrats to push, hard, for direct presidential elections nationwide. The constitutional amendment for this is going to be a long slog -- I can't wait to hear the lame reasons Republicans come up with for opposing it, but oppose it they will. But it can be a focal point for teaching the American public how unfair a piecemeal state-by-state approach would be.

  • Anonymous on January 16, 2013 2:35 AM:

    weirdnoise: I think it would be hilarious if these Repub-run states went to all the work of changing the rules only to have the rug pulled out from under them by the abolishment of the electoral college before their diabolical plans would take effect.

    As it is, I'm so sick of the antics of the party of elephants who are cheating and stealing elections.

  • Napoleon on January 16, 2013 6:08 AM:

    This has been driving me crazy since the election how across the board the MSM and left leaning commentators have simply ignored this while many Republicans have made it very clear they have every intention of doing this. Here in Ohio THE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION the Ohio SOS came out for this plan. If that doesn't tell you that behind closed doors there were discussions ahead of the election that the Rights plan B was simply to effectively strip the electorate from the ability to pick a President you are not paying attention.

  • low-tech cyclist on January 16, 2013 11:53 AM:

    Sounds to me like we lefties need to put a whole lot more energy into state legislature contests in key states than we're currently doing.