If You Don’t Win, Change the Rules

This works both ways because both parties are at work on such projects, but this is the latest version of GOP revisions.

Republicans have a new strategy for 2016: Change the rules of presidential elections in order to swing the electoral college in the GOP’s favor.

On Wednesday, Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature became one of the first to advance a bill that would allocate electoral votes by congressional district. Last week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed pushing through similar proposals in other states with Republican legislative majorities.

The strategy would have states alter the way they translate individual votes into electors — thereby giving Republican candidates an advantage. Had the 2012 election been apportioned in every state according to these new Republicans plans, Romney would have led Obama by at least 11 electoral votes. Here’s how:

In the 2012 election, President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 126 electoral votes.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Richard

    Scot, what Democrat projects are on-going to affect the rules of the electoral college? I’m aware of gerrymandering attempts by both sides but not rule changes to the electoral college.

    I understand the desire to say ‘both sides do this’ to avoid the howls of partisanship but I’m not aware of any Democrat push to change the way electoral college votes are awarded. Nor am I aware of the GOP ever before being as brazen and nakedly cynical in explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing.

  • Steve Sherwood

    I agree with Richard. Redistricting efforts seem to be a constant in state houses regardless of party, but I have not heard of any Dem. controlled states that are trying to change their state’s approach to the electoral college . If the Republican controlled states that are trying to do this succeed, my guess is that will begin the end of the electoral college altogether. People will perceive those changes to be fundamentally unfair. If the 6 states looking to do this had done this all of them, in which Obama won the popular vote, would have gone for Romney and the election (in which Obama won the popular vote by just under 4% would have been razor thin).

    This seems both Machiavellian and short-sighted on the GOP’s part. I also think that to be true about the voter ID/voter suppression efforts in many of the same states.

  • scotmcknight

    Richard, “re-districting” is the name of the game.

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike B

    After reading the two comments think it needs to be made clear that no one is trying to get rid of the electoral college in VA or anywhere else. The proposal in VA would only divide up the electoral votes for the state of VA so that the winner of the popular vote would not get them all. This is similar to systems used already in Nebraska and Maine.

    BTW: the VA gov and AG both oppose this idea so likely going no where.

    Finally, plans to divide electoral college votes was introduced by Dems in VA before 2008. :)
    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/01/virginia-democrats-electoral-vote-split.php?ref=fpnewsfeed

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike B

    After reading the two comments think it needs to be made clear that no one is trying to get rid of the electoral college in VA or anywhere else. The proposal in VA would only divide up the electoral votes for the state of VA so that the winner of the popular vote would not get them all. This is similar to systems used already in Nebraska and Maine.

    BTW: the VA gov and AG both oppose this idea so likely going no where.

    Finally, plans to divide electoral college votes was introduced by Dems in VA before 2008. :)
    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/01/virginia-democrats-electoral-vote-split.php?ref=fpnewsfeed

  • Robin

    I would say the Democratic calls right after the election to dump the electoral college in favor of a national popular vote would have been the equivalent. We have a status quo, some people wanted to change the status quo to benefit Republicans, some wanted to dump the status quo in order to favor Democrats. The motives and outcomes of both groups are reciprocal.

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike B

    weird my comment posted twice…

  • Marshall

    In the absence of gerymandering (NB!), electoral college voting by district would be a move in the direction of a popular vote; clustering electoral votes by state is an arcahic gerymandering, as the occasional election of a minority president shows. And this change would eliminate the obnoxious focus on “swing states.” But why not just move to a direct popular vote??

    Totally right Scot, redistricting done by self-interested politicians is a big problem beyond the electoral college. One could think about computer programs to draw district boundaries to maximize voter clustering: Dream On, Young Hippie.

  • Kevin Ford

    Non-partisan fair-election group have called for this change for years. Several states already do it. The real impetus behind it are voters in states with resented urban political machines. Those machines do tend to be Democrat… but they are resented by independents as much as Republicans.

  • BradK

    Steve, how will that begin to bring about the end of the electoral college? Ending the electoral college requires an amendment to the U.S. constitution. Do you really think enough people will perceive those changes to be fundamentally unfair that either party can muster the 2/3rds vote in the Senate required to pass an amendment? And even if so, there isn’t the slightest chance that 3/4ths of the states would ratify it any time soon.

    Regardless of whether we like it or not, it is legal and appropriate for state legislatures to determine how a state appoints its electors. How else should that be done? As far as I know, there is no requirement for states to even have a popular vote for president. It is constitutionally legal for the state legislatures to appoint the electors directly. It is a state matter. Sounds to me like the democrats (and independents) in Virginia need to rally against this proposal. There are obviously enough of them there to do so, since President Obama carried the state.

    Of course a better overall solution would be for the GOP to abandon some of its awful political stances. Then it would not need to try and do some of the things it is trying to do to retain/gain control of government. It would then also be more effective at opposing some of the awful political stances of the democrat party. I won’t hold my breath waiting for this to happen.

  • Robin

    I am not in favor of a direct popular vote because all rural areas in the country would instantaneously become meaningless, at least in Presidential elections. Perhaps you could still say they retain some power due to the makeup of the Senate, but the bottom line is that our founders envisioned a country where rural areas retained some power. They didn’t just want Boston and New York City (I guess it would be NYC, LA, Chicago, and Atlanta nowadays) to get together and pick a President that prioritized urban concerns to the neglect of the rest of the country.

    Allocating electoral votes based on (non-gerrymandered) house districts would be one compromise, but you cannot find such districts, either due to outrageously political voting plans, or to civil rights era voting rules. The gerry-mandering runs both ways.

    In my state the state senate gets to gerrymander their districts to benefit the R’s and the state house does the same to benefit the D’s…with the agreement that neither chamber will interfere with the others gerrymandering…they have to agree though on the Federal gerrymandering.

  • Kyle J

    It’s not just gerrymandering. It’s also the fact that Dem voters tend to be clustered more heavily in Dem-leaning districts than GOP voters are in GOP-leaning districts.

    For example, you could have an urban district that’s 80-20 Dem/GOP surrounded by three suburban or rural districts that are 55-45 GOP/Dem. The total in those four districts would still be clearly a Dem majority, but awarding the electoral college votes by district would give the majority to the GOP.

    If you’re going to move toward a popular vote system, then just do it. This in-between version makes it more likely you’ll get differing popular/electoral vote outcomes–as you would have last year, with GOP keeping its majority in the House despite earning a smaller number of total votes than the Dems in House races nationally.

  • Steve Sherwood

    I don’t think these moves want to abolish the electoral college. I am suggesting that, if successful they would be the first domino in what would end up being the end of the electoral college.

    Is a rural citizens’ vote rendered meaningless in a popular vote system? Does their vote not have exactly the same weight as a voter anywhere else? If weight means, “I get to win periodically,” perhaps, but even there I am not sure of that. Personally, I like our system in that it’s a bit of a hybrid. Popular vote rules within states (except for NE), but smaller, more rural states get a clear voice in each election through the electoral college. The only change to that I’d support would be moving to a straight popular vote model.

    For what it’s worth, I live in what probably counts as a rural community (19,000 pop. 30 miles outside of a city), but probably vote with an eye to urban issues of poverty, crime, education in mind more than “rural priority” issues.

  • metanoia

    Shocking!! Elections have consequences on the State level too!! Whodathunkit?

  • kipp

    Let me lay aside the question of partisanship and consider this from a different concern. If I understand the proposed system right, the number of electoral votes a state has remains the same: 1 for each congressman and senator. The allocation would then be that each electoral vote basically mirrors the congressman/senator’s district: whoever wins each congressional district wins 1 electoral vote, and whoever wins the statewide popular vote wins 2. My question is, wouldn’t that pretty much make the presidential race identical to the sum of the House and Senate races (assuming very few ticket-splitters, perhaps a wrong assumption)? And if so, can we really say there is a separation of powers any more? How is this substantively different from a parliamentary system?

    Also, I hear a lot about Democratic organizations pushing for this for years, and I want to ask a clarifying question: were they pushing specifically for splitting electoral votes along congressional district lines, or simply allocating electoral votes along statewide or nationwide popular vote percentages? That does make a big difference.

  • jon

    I’m in favor of restructuring the electoral college based on congressional district (with the state’s popular vote winner taking the two senate votes) not because I’m republican, but because it better represents the people as a whole.

    Doing so would have had significant impact on every election since Clinton.

  • jon

    It’s interesting that we all seem to be viewing this as an issue about the election process than one of states’ rights.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    God forbid anyone actully tries to convince people anymore.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    I’m in favor of restructuring the electoral college based on congressional district (with the state’s popular vote winner taking the two senate votes) not because I’m republican, but because it better represents the people as a whole.

    In 2012, in Pennsylvania, Obama captured the state wide vote by nearly 6%. Yet, by congressional district, 13 of 18 CD went to ‘R’. Now, even with 2 (another asymmetry that disproportionately favors rural over urban) votes awarded to vote winner (unlike the proposals that award the 2 “free” electoral tallies to the aggregate CD winner!), the tally would be 13-7 or 15-5 for Romney, despite the fact that Obama won the state’s popular vote by nearly 6%.

    I fail to see how that better represents the people as a whole.

    Unless urban voters are deemed 3/5 of value of a rural voter (or less!).

  • megan

    There is a difference between proposing electoral changes because you don’t feel the current system reflects the will of the people, and proposing electoral changes because you want to subvert the will of the people. And yes, I know politics is self-interest and your perception of the “will of the people” is colored by your partisanship, but let’s at least pretend we have enough critical thinking to see a difference between the two.

    Mitt lost VA by over 100,000 votes. If you want to argue that he deserved at least a portion of VA’s electoral votes, considering he lost by a pretty small margin, I think that’s fair. You may be pro, you may be con–but at least it’s a fair discussion. And I would also say that discussions about a strict popular vote are fair too (again, pro or con–at least it’s a legit discussion). I’m not sure how anyone can support a plan under which Obama would have gotten just four of the state’s 13 electors despite winning the state. Not to mention that, enacted country-wide, Mitt would have won despite a 5 million vote disadvantage. That’s certainly not fair. And, just so we’re clear: ditto if the roles were reversed, though I am inclined to agree this particular effort is pretty organized and pretty brazen even for our politicians.

    But what’s really interesting is this: their proposed system benefits the overall statewide loser. If VA turns red in 2016, they will have picked at least four electoral votes out of their own nominee’s pocket. Basically, enough to push a swing state like Iowa into the Republicans’ “must win” column. And that’s not even touching the other states considering this. The underlying belief seems to be that the Republicans aren’t getting these swing states back any time soon. So much for their insistence that their message just needs a little repackaging and they’ll be back to relevance.

  • Patrick

    I think Maine, Nebraska and Mass. have a form of this electoral vote split. Virgina is late to this rodeo. It is closer form of democracy w/o being direct popular vote, that’s all it is.

    Instead of a 55%-45% vote giving 100% to the leader, the votes are allocated.

    Big evil there.

  • Barb

    I believe that the “evil” is this: these new proposals are not the same as those in Maine, etc. In this new idea–the winner of the popular vote could easily lose the election. If a candidate wins the pop vote in a state 55-45–in this new method that candidate could be awarded say 45% of the the electoral votes and the loser would get 55%. All because the “loser” came out ahead in more congressional districts. If it were just a percentage of the electoral votes based on the percentage of the pop vote–then what’s the point?

  • Richard

    Scot, I’m surprised that you continue to conflate re-districting with changes to how electoral votes are awarded to a candidate (winner take all or proportional according to district outcomes or popular vote). These are related but separate issues.

  • Joe

    Democrats are pushing for general popular vote mechanics because they tend to win popular votes (recent decades). Democrats support most of these policies in theory.

    Republicans are only pushing in swing states that Democrats tend to control, a brazen attempt to steal presidential elections. Asking Blue states to split their votes while Red states refuse, all in the name of fairness.

    Gerrymandering also generously favors Republicans. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/us/politics/redistricting-helped-republicans-hold-onto-congress.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    I have nothing against conservative politics, and little love for the Democratic party, but changing the rules is old Republican hat by now.

    This is not a bipartisan issue.

  • Jeff Y

    Well, Jesus wins. Either way. That’s my political prediction for 2016 and on. ;)

  • Johnas

    “For example, you could have an urban district that’s 80-20 Dem/GOP surrounded by three suburban or rural districts that are 55-45 GOP/Dem. The total in those four districts would still be clearly a Dem majority, but awarding the electoral college votes by district would give the majority to the GOP.”

    Exactly. And it does NOT move us toward a more pure democracy or representation based on the wishes of the people. On the contrary, it’s a clear attempt to make urban votes worth less than rural votes, cloaked in words that imply equal representation.

    I am heartened by the fact that history favors freedom and the God-given right of the people to govern themselves, however, and while the minority party can do whatever it can get away with to maintain power, such attempts always fail in the long run. This country is changing, and the parties which find themselves growing out of step with the people are better served by adapting to the environment than trying to change the environment. (See: Evolution)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X