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January 25, 2013 12:15 PM Can a National Popular Vote Defuse Republican Attempts to Steal 2016?

By Ryan Cooper

The latest move under consideration by the GOP is so aggressively anti-democratic that it’s flirting with coup d’etat territory. Briefly, the thought is to take the states that typically go Democratic in the presidential election but still have Republican-controlled legislatures, and divvy their electoral votes up in as GOP-tilted a fashion as possible short of just awarding them to the Republican automatically. In Virginia, for example, the plan is to award electoral votes via congressional district, then take the remaining two and give them to whoever won the most districts. The result?

Mitt Romney won the 1st (53%), 4th (50%), 5th (53%), 6th (59%), 7th (57%), 9th (63%), and 10th (50%) districts. Barack Obama won the four remaining districts — the 2nd (50%), 3rd (79%), 8th (68%), and 11th (62%). Had the Carrico plan been in place in 2012, Mitt Romney would have won nine of Virginia’s electoral votes, and Barack Obama would have won four — even though Obama won the popular vote of the state by nearly 150,000 ballots, and four percentage points.

Kevin Drum proposes a countermove: pushing through the National Popular Vote interstate compact:

Republicans are picking and choosing different systems in different states, with not even a pretense that they’re doing it for any reason aside from choosing whichever system benefits Republicans the most in each state. This is so obviously outrageous that it’s likely to prompt a backlash.
Democrats don’t have the votes to fight back with anything similar, but they do have another weapon in their back pocket: the National Popular Vote interstate compact, an agreement among states to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote nationwide. If states with more than half of all electoral votes sign up for this, it goes into effect.
So far, only nine states with a total of 132 electoral votes have signed up. But if Republicans continue their patently shameful effort to game the electoral college system, it might spur more states to sign up. That’s what a sense of outrage can do. Republicans might want to think about that as they move forward. If they keep going, the end result might be a system even less favorable to them than the current electoral college.

I heartily support this plan just on basic principles, and I think Kevin’s right about the long-term effect here. After all, the Republican plan to depress Democratic turnout in 2012 blew up in their faces pretty decisively.

However, the path to 270 for the National Popular Vote people (the point at which they would have a guaranteed winner and thus the electoral college would be invalidated) is pretty steep. As Kevin says, so far they’ve got 8 states: Hawaii, Washington, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, plus DC, for a total of 132 electoral votes. The states that are controlled by Democrats but haven’t passed NPV are Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Maine (looking here and here) for a total of 89 electoral votes, leaving them 58 electoral votes shy of the total needed.

If we assume that any house of a state legislature that is controlled by Republicans will bottle up any NPV bill (which seems plausible; indeed, this analysis is leaving out the fact that both New Mexico and Nevada have Republican governors), then they’d have to win more state houses in 2014.

In short, it would be entirely possible for Republicans to make the 2016 presidential election almost impossible to win as a Democrat. The only things holding them back are respect for norms, fear of a popular backlash, and considerations about the future, qualities which have been somewhat scarce around the Republican party of late.

@ryanlcooper

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

Comments

  • Q. T. on January 25, 2013 2:21 PM:

    You've overlooked the initiative process. If you only look at Democratic-controlled states and blue states with initiative processes, you get to 279:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/24/1181394/-Republicans-WILL-take-the-White-House-in-2016

  • Sue on January 25, 2013 5:54 PM:

    If you go to the national popular vote website, there is a convenient petition site for contacting your state legislators.

    Did it this morning!!

  • matt w on January 25, 2013 6:13 PM:

    And (thanks to some pretty low-down maneuvering, and with no help from Governor Cuomo) Democrats don't even control the legislature in New York, even though they have majorities in both houses.

  • Don K on January 26, 2013 11:00 PM:

    Q. T. beat me to it, but there's the initiative in, e.g., MI and OH.