Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University, and senior columnist for Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, writes today Republican Electoral College Plan Would Undermine Democracy:
After losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and seeing Barack Obama sweep to a surprisingly easy reelection victory in 2012, Republican leaders and strategists are understandably worried about their party’s prospects in future presidential contests. There is no doubt that the GOP faces major challenges as a result of the nation’s shifting demographics and a growing Democratic advantage in the Electoral College.
Democratic presidential candidates have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia with a total of 242 electoral votes in all four elections since 2000, and another three states with 15 electoral votes in three of those elections. In addition, three of the five states that have voted twice for each party since 2000 — Colorado, Nevada and Virginia, with a total of 28 electoral votes — clearly appear to be trending Democratic. That gives Democrats a base of 24 states plus the District of Columbia in which they have the advantage going into the next presidential election. Those states have 285 electoral votes — 15 votes more than needed to win the presidency.
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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.
The congressional district plan appears reasonable at first glance. After all, why give all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins statewide no matter how narrow that candidate’s margin? Awarding electoral votes by congressional district would seem to provide a fairer and more balanced alternative to the winner-take-all system. But there is a serious problem with this approach. Despite a superficial appearance of fairness, the congressional district plan would be profoundly undemocratic — skewing the results in favor of the party drawing the congressional district lines in a state and greatly increasing the chances of an Electoral College misfire (a victory by the candidate losing the national popular vote).
The congressional district system, if adopted for the entire nation, would give Republicans a major advantage in presidential elections. That’s because Republicans controlled the redistricting process after the 2010 census in far more states than Democrats as a result of the GOP’s big gains in the 2010 midterm elections. By drawing congressional districts that favored the GOP, Republican state legislatures and governors gave their party a big edge in the battle for control of the House of Representatives. The result was that in 2012, even though Democratic candidates outpolled Republican candidates by more than a million votes across the nation, Republicans kept control of the House by a margin of 234 seats to 201 seats.
The results of GOP gerrymandering were also clearly evident in the presidential election. Across the nation, Obama defeated Mitt Romney by almost four percentage points and close to five million votes. However, based on the results that are currently available we can estimate that Romney carried 228 House districts to only 207 for Obama. So despite Obama’s comfortable margin in the national popular vote, a system that awarded one electoral vote for each House district plus two votes for the statewide winner would have resulted in a Romney victory by 276 electoral votes to 262 electoral votes.
Of course, there is no chance that the congressional district system will be adopted for the entire country between now and 2016. There is no interest in changing the method of awarding electoral votes in states currently controlled by Democrats or in states currently controlled by Republicans that were carried by Romney in 2012. Adopting the congressional district system in those Republican states would probably help the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. But there is a chance that this system could be adopted by six battleground states that were carried by Obama in both 2008 and 2012 but where Republicans currently control the governorship and both houses of the legislature: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
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.
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The current method of allocating electoral votes, based on a winner-take-all rule in every state except Maine and Nebraska, actually serves to closely approximate the ideal method of choosing the president in a democracy: direct popular election. Under the current system, there is a very close relationship between the outcome of the popular vote and the outcome of the electoral vote. Only once since 1888 has a president won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote. That happened in 2000, but a very strong case can be made that the 2000 “misfire” was less a result of the Electoral College itself than of serious flaws in the voting process in Florida.
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.
Under current circumstances, the congressional district system could well result in a Republican victory even if the Democratic candidate were to win the popular vote by a substantial margin. Such a situation would undoubtedly lead to widespread questioning of the legitimacy of the election and, potentially, a public backlash against the victorious Republican candidate and the GOP itself. Before engaging in a cynical attempt to rig the electoral system, Republican leaders and strategists should consider the potential harm that their actions could do to our democratic form of government and to their own party.
Today, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a white paper, Grand Theft Election: How Republicans Plan to Rig the Electoral College and Steal the White House, detailing how this Republican election-rigging plan works — including this rather striking visual demonstration of just how effectively Republicans gerrymandered six states that are likely targets of their plan:
It may be impolitic to say this, but it is true: the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise that has for decades relied upon unlawful voter suppression to reduce voter turnout in key precincts in order to rig election results. There is also aggressive gerrymandering, and don't even get me started on unsecure election equipment, ballot design, and corrupt or incompetent election supervisors. Now the GOP has a scheme and artifice to defraud the electorate by rigging the electoral college to thwart the popular vote winner of the presidential election. This is a blatant attempt to undermine democracy itself.
It is long past time for a constitutional amendment to replace the electoral college with the direct popular vote of the president and vice president -- as we do for all other elected offices.