Tag: Electoral College

The District Plan

The GOP is moving forward, in several states, with plans to change how electoral votes are allocated. The most recent — passed by the disgusting tactic of waiting until a black Democratic senator was attending the inauguration to shove it through by one vote — is even worse than the plan in Pennsylvania. Under this plan, electoral votes would be allocated to the winner of each congressional district with the remaining two votes going to the candidates who wins the most districts. Jamelle Bouie breaks down the problem with this:

Because Democratic voters tend to cluster in highly-populated urban areas, and Republican voters tend to reside in more sparsely populated regions, this makes land the key variable in elections—to win the majority of a state’s electoral votes, your voters will have to occupy the most geographic space.

In addition to disenfranchising voters in dense areas, this would end the principle of “one person, one vote.” If Ohio operated under this scheme, for example, Obama would have received just 22 percent of the electoral votes, despite winning 52 percent of the popular vote in the state.

This is not even a remotely conservative idea. This is a straight up attempt to win elections by trickery. Under this system, a Republican candidate could score well short of a majority of votes and still win the state. Does that make any sense? Does it sound just and reasonable? Would we be nodding our heads and saying, “that sounds good” if Democrats were doing this?

(Actually, we don’t need to think very hard. When Lani Guinier was nominated for assistant AG, the Republicans objected because she had written in favor of voting systems that were skewed to give minorities more votes than majorities.)

Furthermore, we have talked about the GOP’s problem getting votes from anyone other than white men. Whether this plan is intended to disenfranchise black voters or not is beside the point; that’s the way everyone will perceive it. We could be talking another two or three decades of the GOP getting single digit votes from African-Americans.

I also can’t see how this would pass Constitutional muster. While the states are allowed to pick their electors any they want, Bush v. Gore established the precedent that equal protection applies to votes in a Presidential election (and how fun will that be: to watch liberals cite the hated Bush v. Gore as precedent). So the likely result of this would be a bruising Constitutional fight in which the GOP is arguing for effectively disenfranchising millions of voters.

This is stupid and mindless. If the GOP wants to win elections, rigging the game is not the solution. Putting forward a positive agenda, showing competent management skills and convincing everyone that a conservative agenda is good for them is the way. Chris Christie has pursued this strategy in New Jersey and is now so popular that Cory Booker may aver from challenging him in favor of a Senate Run (this, in turn, has provoked to respond in a way that would certainly be called racist is he were a Republican rather than a senile doddering Democrat).

But, of course, rebuilding conservatism is hard work. It might take five to ten years to pay off. Rigging an election could pay off now.

The biggest problem with the GOP is that everything they have done for the last decade has been oriented around winning today without any thought to the long term. This is why entitlements were expanded under Bush instead of reformed. This is why their attacks on Obama consist of news gotchyas instead of deconstructions of his bad policies (and, not coincidentally, why Obama has thumped them in two elections). This is why our budget process has devolved into a series of self-created crises — the cliff, the debt ceiling, the sequester. This is why the GOP in Virginia thinks that creating a system where a Republican can lose the popular vote but when the electoral — by design, not by accident — is a reasonable response to two electoral defeats.

The GOP used to be about the long term. Until they are again, they will continue to lose elections and they will continue to flounder to advance anything approaching conservatism.

Split Decision

There has been a lot of discussion recently about a potential split between the popular vote and the electoral college this year. Obama is leading in the polls in several critical swing states while Romney has been holding a lead in the national polls (caveat: Nate Silver points out that the math doesn’t work out. If the state polls are accurate, Obama should have a national lead (and indeed, the RCP average is now tied or has Obama with a very slightly 0.1% lead). One set of polls is likely off. Come Tuesday, we’ll find out which ones).

I’d kind of like to see a split this year since it would weaken the President and create the glorious spectacle of every pundit arguing the precise reverse of what he said in 2000. While it does now appear unlikely, it remains possible. And given that we’ve had two such splits in our history, a third will likely happen at some point.

(There is a very tiny chance of an electoral tie as well, which would throw things to Congress, assuming we don’t have any faithless electors. That would, given the composition, result in a Romney-Biden administration; almost like the worst of both worlds.)

I’ve made it clear that I oppose switching to a national popular vote, but we’ve never really had a discussion. So I want to throw this open before Tuesday’s vote. Should we abolish the electoral college? Should we go to a popular vote?

One of the things that make me hesitate is this: to the best of my knowledge, we have never had a national vote. On anything. All three high offices — the House, Senate and the President — are elected at the state level. Amendements are passed by Congress and state legislatures. In fact, reading the Constitution, you can’t help but be struck by how the Founders went to great lengths to avoid anything approaching a plebiscite.

This wasn’t just because a national election would have been difficult in such a large nation in the 18th century. And it wasn’t just federalism speaking, either. They cleared regarded direct democracy as dangerous (as do I). The beauty of a Constitutional Republic is that the people do not always get what they want. Elections do not give us what we want; elections create accountability.

Because we have never had a national vote, creating one is a lot more complicated that just adding the tallies from the states. Different states have different voting laws and that will create some power disparities. States with stricter voting requirement will lose votes relative to more liberal ones. States that don’t worry too much about counting every single Presidential vote because of the huge margin (e.g., Utah) will have to be more strict. And how do you reconcile the widely varying laws on early voting, absentee voting and electronic voting? What happens if online voting becomes a thing?

No, we’re not just talking about having a popular vote. We are talking, in the end, about federalizing the vote. We are talking about creating uniform voting standards, uniform early voting and absentee policies and, most likely, a national voter registry and ID card. In fact, I can not see that national vote would possible be compliant with Bush v. Gore unless it created uniform standards.

Maybe that’s preferable to the 50-state patchwork we have now. But if so, make the case. Why should we abolish the electoral college? Why should we nationalize the vote?