Political Animal


January 24, 2013 10:58 AM The Electoral College Rigging Scheme in Perspective

By Ed Kilgore

So if you’ve been semi-aware of the fast-developing story of state-level Republicans in battleground states proposing changes in electoral college allocations, here’s the clearest account so far, from Emory’s Alan Abramowitz at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Several Republican governors and state legislative leaders in key battleground states have recently expressed support for a plan to change the method of awarding their state’s electoral votes from the current winner-take-all system to one in which one vote would be awarded to the winner of each congressional district in the state and two votes would be awarded to the statewide winner. In the aftermath of the GOP’s 2012 defeat, this plan appears to be gaining momentum and was recently endorsed by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. On Wednesday, a bill to apportion electors by congressional district advanced through a subcommittee in the Virginia Senate….
If these six battleground states were to adopt the congressional district method of awarding electoral votes, it would not guarantee a Republican victory in the 2016 presidential election but it would make such a victory much more likely. That’s because the congressional district lines in these states were gerrymandered by Republican legislatures following the 2010 census to give their party a huge advantage. As a result, even though Obama carried all six states in 2012, it appears that Romney carried 61 House districts in these states to only 33 for Obama. Romney appears to have carried 16 of 27 House districts in Florida, 9 of 14 House districts in Michigan, 12 of 16 House districts in Ohio, 12 of 18 House districts in Pennsylvania, 7 of 11 House districts in Virginia and 5 of 8 House districts in Wisconsin.
If the congressional district system had been used in these six states in 2012, instead of Obama winning all of their 106 electoral votes, it appears that Romney would have won 61 electoral votes to only 45 for Obama. As a result, Obama’s margin in the national electoral vote would have been reduced from 332-206 to only 271-267.

A very different election, eh? And Abramowitz also makes the more basic point that such tricks would simply expose by greatly worsening them the inequities inherent to the electoral college system:

If we can’t have direct popular election of the president — the method that would clearly be the most democratic and the method that polls have consistently found that the large majority of Americans favor — then the next best method of choosing the president is probably the current one of awarding electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. The current system appears to minimize the chances of an electoral vote misfire in which the winner of the popular vote loses the electoral vote. In contrast, the congressional district method would greatly increase the chances of such a misfire.

The GOP electoral vote gambit will only succeed if it’s conducted as a blitzkrieg, before the public figures it out and says: “Hey, cut out the crap!” So this is one outrage where making some noise is essential.

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.


  • BillFromPA on January 24, 2013 11:10 AM:

    Quote: 'The GOP electoral vote gambit will only succeed if it’s conducted as a blitzkrieg, before the public figures it out and says: “Hey, cut out the crap!” So this is one outrage where making some noise is essential.'

    This notion assumes that the GOP gives a flying fig about what the grubby, unwashed electorate thinks. On what do you base this idea? I'm sure they'd rather sneak this through in the dead of night, but they'll ram it through in the spotlight if necessary.

  • Art Hackett on January 24, 2013 11:23 AM:

    Two words: South Africa.

  • c u n d gulag on January 24, 2013 11:30 AM:

    After what happened in VA on Monday, the first lesson here for Democrats is, don’t take a day off.

    Today’s Republicans are ratfeckers who learned their ratfeckin’ while sitting at the feet of The King of the Ratfeckers, Richard Nixon.
    Cheney and Rummy, among others, carried on Nixon’s ratfeckin’ tradition.

    Ratfeckers will feck rats, if the rats are left in the position to be fecked.
    So, if you don’t want the ratfeckers feckin’ rats, then either make sure the ratfeckers are never in a position to feck a rat, or, put a chastity belt on the rat.

    The final lesson here is, Democrats, if you ever think to yourselves, “I don’t think even Republicans would stoop that low” – THINK AGAIN!!!

    Having said that, these states are well within their rights to do what they're trying to do.

    To counter them: GOTV!

  • Mimikatz on January 24, 2013 11:53 AM:

    The Dems need to paint this power grab by the GOP as one more attempt by the well-off minority to hold onto power and continue to stifle the Obama coalition, because that is exactly what it is. Moreover, by further skewing the game toward the anti-science, anti-real competition Party of the Past, it is going to further hold America and individuals back.

    But the Dems have a responsibility here too. It is increasingly clear that the 2010 election was a disaster for the Dems with consequences that will reach far into the future. The Dem Party and Dem coalition have to understand that voting is an every-two-years thing and constant civic engagement to some degree is necessary to hold these predators off. We really can't relax like we did after 1993 when Clinton won or in 2009, because the GOP is constantly fighting for power even in defeat and they don't let up. We really don't have long to begin to solve our problems, like climate change. If they entrench themselves in power as they are trying to do, it will really be game over.

  • MichaelF on January 24, 2013 12:10 PM:

    Could the Democrats take this off the table by threatening endless litigation re: gerrymandered Congressional Districts? Just wondering...

  • David Patin on January 24, 2013 12:12 PM:

    My understanding of the Virginia law is that the two at large votes would awarded to the whowever won the most districts, not the state wide winner.

    What is actaully being done is even less democratic that described.

  • esaud on January 24, 2013 12:18 PM:

    This is getting pretty scary. They aren't even bothering to pretend anymore. And of course our idiot media are chasing around GOP faux scandals.

  • Napoleon on January 24, 2013 12:26 PM:

    "So this is one outrage where making some noise is essential."

    This - so where is the Democratic party on this? AWOL as far as I can tell.

  • Oh my on January 24, 2013 12:58 PM:

    The current system appears to minimize the chances of an electoral vote misfire in which the winner of the popular vote loses the electoral vote. In contrast, the congressional district method would greatly increase the chances of such a misfire.

    That's a bit of an understatement. If Abramowitz/Sabato's hypothetical 271-267 number is correct, then Obama would have virtually tied the electoral college vote despite picking up nearly 5 million more popular votes then Romney.

    While they're at it, Republicans may just as well go ahead and call for reinstituting the 3/5ths clause. It would be no less radical.

  • Tom on January 24, 2013 1:55 PM:

    Let's call it what it is... it's "Racialmandering" At the heart of the scheme has been the GOP strategy to meet the Voting Rights Act requirements by packing as many minority voters into as few Congressional Districts as possible, to create as lopsidedly majority-minority districts as possible. The purpose was to minimize African American political power. By now leveraging those Racialmandered congressional districts into the Presidential election process carries it further.

    What happens if a GOP presidential candidate is elected with a real minority of the popular vote on the basis of this power grab? Could we let that election stand unchallenged?

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 24, 2013 2:30 PM:

    Is this really the fate of our nation: A bunch crusty evil old white men plotting ways to disenfranchise the non-crusty-evil-old-white-men part of the electorate every 25 years?

    It makes me rather sad, considering that I was born in the 80s and was taught that these game-changing tactics are for the bygone eras of American history (Jim Crow). But I guess it ain't so....

    For all the Electoral College's flaws, it's been fairly idiot-proof throughout US history... At least when idiots don't get involved. The presidents who did win the electoral votes without the popular won more on account of backroom politicking rather than systematic error. Really, the GOP is being quite radical in trying to redesign it now. I guess stuffing ballot boxes and other nefarious vote-blocking schemes are going out of style now... Too much work, I suppose. Just rig everything from the giddy-up...

  • POed Lib on January 24, 2013 3:25 PM:

    What is strongly needed in each of these states is a statewide constitutional amendment which would ensure that a fair system is retained. Each of these states is majority D. We need an amendment in each state to ensure that some are not disenfranchised by gerrymandering.

  • MrToad on January 24, 2013 3:41 PM:

    Maybe it's time for the a citizen group with standing, or the Democratic Party itself, to lawyer-up. The principle of One Person, One Vote was established by the Supreme Court during the 1960s, and the Right has been trying to undermine it ever since. If we truly believe that the integrity of every vote should be honored, we need to fight for it.

  • PEA on January 24, 2013 4:41 PM:

    Something must be done at the fed level (constitutional amendment?) to ensure the 'one person, one vote' principle that Mr Toad notes -- both for the sake of federal elections, but also for the sake of local and state ones too. We're seeing in Michigan, Wis, etc what happens when the Oligarchy takes over. This will require (at least) regulations on who can vote, when/where voting occurs, how the votes are counted, who counts the votes (and decides the rules), and how voting technology is controlled/audited. I can't imagine this passing in the current Congress, but it's clear from what has happened in several states that we can't count on states to do this. The problem keeps getting worse as the oligarchy successfully grasp for more and more power even in blue-ish states. They will stop at nothing to get what they want --until/unless we stop them. If we hope to avoid being overwhelmed by the many critical challenges we face (climate change, energy, pollution,health costs, etc), we must first ensure that we retain the power to elect people who will work for us, not screw us over.