Ten Miles Square


February 14, 2013 3:38 PM Urbanization and Republican Cheating a Political Problem for Democrats

By Rhiannon M. Kirkland

Leaders in some republican dominated states have discussed making changes to the way their Electoral College votes are distributed. These changes if enacted would largely be favourable to republican presidential candidates. Micah Cohen of the New York Times reports:

Republican state senators in Virginia, as well as the state’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, announced Friday that they would oppose a bill to change how the state awards its electoral votes in presidential elections. The proposed legislation would have moved the state from awarding its electors on a winner-take-all basis to a proportional system based on Congressional districts.
There have been rumblings of similar changes in other Republican-controlled states carried by President Obama in 2008 and 2012: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. And the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, has voiced his approval of such measures.

Even though the Virginia bill is unlikely to pass, Democrats have expressed concerns over the potential changes. If such changes were broadly enacted they could potentially mean very different electoral outcomes. If all states were to pass it (which would be highly unlikely) then the Electoral College would’ve been 277 to 261 for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Among the biggest concerns is that Democratic voters tend to live in more densely populated areas while the proposed changes would give greater importance to less-densely populated rural areas where Republicans fare better. This could cost Democrats quite a few seats, especially if number of districts won rather than popular vote is used in distributing left over electoral college votes. Instead of awarding states electoral college votes on the basis of popular vote. This means that a party with a minority of votes can come out on top as the Republicans did in the 2013 House of Representatives elections. Ian Millhiser wrote on Thinkprogress, “In a year when Republicans earned less than half the popular vote, they will control a little under 54 percent of the House.”

The Democrats having a higher number of voters living in cities means that there are a lot of urban districts where large Democratic majorities go to waste. Democrats are inherently disadvantaged by urbanization because they have more votes but in fewer districts. By using the popular vote method these votes go into the overall pool but going based on district the majorities in cities count for less. Republican gerrymandering tactics take advantage of this weakness.

The strategy and mentality behind the changes is also behind Republican gerrymandering tactics, and an attempt to win more seats by changing the rules when possible. Instead of trying to win more votes, votes are distributed differently and in a way that makes it easier for Republicans to win. David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times writes:

In Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, Republican candidates have been given a huge advantage by legislative redistricting driven to favor the GOP.
As a result, in those 10 states collectively, the Republican vote in 2012 was just 7% higher than for Democrats, yet Republicans took 76% more House seats. In most games, that would be called cheating.

If Electoral College seats are distributed based on House of Representative seats then Democrats could be cost electoral votes the same way they were cost House seats. This reflects an attitude that says: if you can’t win at the game, change the rules.

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Rhiannon M. Kirkland is an intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • iyoumeweus on February 15, 2013 3:33 PM:

    Section 1: ARTICLE II, Section 1, Paragraphs 2 and 3 to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed and superseded by this amendment. Henceforth, the President and the Vice President shall be elected directly by a popular vote of all citizens 18 or over on Election Day, as determined by the Congress and approved by the President in accordance with the Constitution.
    Section 2: Amendment XII and Amendment XXIII shall be superseded by this Amendment except for the following sentences of Amendment XII:
    a. The person having the greatest number of votes for President shall be President
    b. The person having the greatest number of votes for Vice President shall be Vice President
    c. No person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States.
    d. The President and Vice President shall not be an inhabitant of the same state.
    Section 3: Each member of the House of Representatives shall represent no more then 250,000 +/- 12,500 citizens. As the nationís population increases or decreases the number of House member will increase or decrease to accommodate this requirement. Congressional Districts shall be compact and drawn along state, country, city, town and village lines wherever possible to accommodate equal representation. In some instances, election district boundaries may have to be used but in no case can election districts be divided except in accordance with state, county and local laws. In cities with a population greater than one million (1,000,000) Congressional Districts need not be compact but drawn in such a manner so as to reflect the various ethnic, cultural and neighborhood interests, differences and diversities residing within our country.
    Section 4: Any state with a population of five million (5,000,000) shall be able to elect another Senator and receive an additional Senator for each additional increase in five million citizens. All Senators shall be elected at large and represent the entire state in Congress.
    Section 5: The Congress shall have the power to establish by law all procedures pertaining to the election of President and Vice President including: the certification and transmission of election results, a sorting and winnowing process of potential candidates, voter identification, guaranteeing each citizen the right to vote in secret and ensuring each vote is counted.
    Section 6: Federal judges shall have the power to review and adjust Congressional District boundaries to better reflect Section 3, but the compliant must come from within the Congressional District(s) with an accompanying petition signed by ten per cent (10%) of those residing within the district(s).
    Section 7: a. Any state having fewer than 250,000 citizens shall be guaranteed one representative and two Senators.
    b. The District of Columbia may elect representatives in accordance with its population and Section 3.
    c. The District of Columbia being once a part of Maryland may take part in electing Senators from Maryland.
    Section 8: The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.