Exchanging Scripts on Dividing Up Electoral Votes

Exchanging Scripts on Dividing Up Electoral Votes January 30, 2013

With several Republican state legislatures considering proposals to divide up their electoral votes, would it surprise you that both parties have proposed similar things in the past and have now flipped their positions entirely out of political convenience? In Colorado, for example, the Democrats tried to do the same thing in 2004 when it would have helped them defeat Bush. And the Republican governor was up in arms about it:

There’s a transparently partisan movement afoot in Colorado to distribute our Electoral College votes proportionately. The goal? To give John Kerry a four-vote Electoral College boost, putting him ahead of President Bush in a close election.

And in Virginia, some Democrats were trying as recently as last year to do the same thing. And the sponsor of that bill is as transparent as the Republicans about only doing it to help their parties politically:

Delegate Vivan Watts (D), who sponsored or co-sponsored a number of bills over the years — including one in 2012 — that would divide Virginia’s electoral votes by Congressional district, told TPM that Virginia’s longtime status as a solid red state played a role in her earlier support.

“I’m age 72 so I spent a lot of years in the wilderness and the last time the state had gone Democratic [before 2008] was following the assassination of John F. Kennedy,” Watts said. “I thought back in those days about how we were just totally ignored.”

Watts says she has since changed her position “180 degres” in response to the post-2010 round of redistricting, which solidified Republican control of the state’s Congressional delegation. Had Carrico’s bill gone into effect last year with that map in place, Mitt Romney would have won nine electoral votes to President Obama’s four, even as he lost the state popular vote.

“I certainly don’t want the situation this bill would represent in which the Congressional vote would run counter to the popular vote,” she said.

But that is always a possibility if the votes are divided up by congressional district (it’s also always likely because of the electoral college, but it becomes much more likely if the votes are divided up by congressional district. My position, at least, is consistent — all such proposals should be eliminated, including the electoral college. Every single vote should count exactly the same and the popular vote should determine the winner.

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  • Pierce R. Butler

    How do you propose to resolve the problem presented by the high probability of the leading candidate getting less than 50%+1 of the total vote?

    IOW: we need both direct popular vote and instant run-off balloting. The first, without the second, provides a gaping opportunity for election-gaming.

    (And while we’re at it – will any of this mean a damn thing without serious comprehensive campaign-finance reform?)

  • laurentweppe

    How do you propose to resolve the problem presented by the high probability of the leading candidate getting less than 50%+1 of the total vote?

    You do it like France: two turns: the two candidates with the most votes in the first turn qualify for the second, and since there’s only two candidates then, the winner is guaranteed to have more than 50% of the vote.

    Also, the campains spendings are paid by the state for every candidate who earn more than 5% of the votes it’s illegal to spend more than 23 millions € for a presidential campain: good incentives to keep political parties honest.

  • I agree with Ed 100%. Shannigans on both sides are to be expected and that’s all the more reason to ditch the EC. I’d even go as far as saying drawing up the congressional districts should be taken out of the hands of the state legislatures and given to an independent panel.

  • Rip Steakface

    In WA, gerrymandering has been largely avoided on the Congressional level (don’t know about the state legislature) because our districts are drawn according to an independent commission with a non-partisan chairperson. In the last redistricting, we gained a House seat, and so the makeup of our Congressional delegation changed from 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with maybe 2 swing districts, to 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with a new Republican-safe district (Jamie Herrera Buetler’s district) and a new Democrat-safe district (mine, with Denny Heck), and maybe one or two swing districts. I’m unsure about the composition of the districts that aren’t the South Puget Sound area (mine) or the area around Clark County (Buetler’s).

    There may still be a bit of Democrat-favoring redistricting here, but it’s not that bad considering the shape of the districts and the party composition of the state (large Democratic majority by population). The best part, though, is that districting was taken out of the hands of the legislature, and so looks far more fair than, say, Pennsylvania.

    But consider that: if the Congressional district ECs system had been in place for the entire country, Obama would have lost four votes from WA, one of the bluest states. Imagine the toll in states like New York and California, with huge urban Democratic centers and vast expanses of rural Republican boondocks. On the whole, they’re Democratic, but there’s plenty of Republicans in both states.

  • sinned34

    If you think Republican suppress-the-vote efforts were bad before, just think of what they’d be like if the presidential election becomes based on overall vote totals. Heck, you’ll probably see the Democrats ramp up their own efforts to stop likely Republicans from voting.

  • aluchko

    Well I fully condemn those efforts (and hope I would have done so at the time).

    @Pierce it’s important to note that even the run offs don’t solve anything, as it is it’s actually mathematically impossible to have a perfect voting system.


  • eric

    The fact that they exchange scripts so often is actually an argument in defense of the system. You all have sold me on the idea that a straight popular vote is better, so I’m not really defending this system. But its worth pointing out that if gerrymandering could really lock elections the way people fear, the scripts wouldn’t change.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    laurentweppe @ # 2: You do it like France…

    Well, that does have the priceless advantage of sending the wingers into a nice froth…

    … two turns: the two candidates with the most votes in the first turn qualify for the second,

    Much harder to game that than to hustle a highest-vote scam, and reasonably simple.

    Aux l’autre main [mes apologies, mes amis!], the French presidency is a mostly-ceremonial post (head of state), while the US counterpart also fills (most of) the prime-ministerial role (executive). Whether that system could survive untwisted a contest for maximum power, I have beaucoup doubts.

    aluchko @ # 6: … it’s actually mathematically impossible to have a perfect voting system.

    Perfection of any kind can only be approached asymptotically. These days, merely aspiring for anything adequate for the survival of civilization qualifies as howling utopianism.

  • Jim Satterfield

    Eliminating the Electoral College requires a Constitutional amendment. Ridding ourselves of gerrymandering by either side by using the independent commission system mentioned by Rip and also having electors assigned by proportion of popular vote or popular vote winner takes all does not. Those options would be much easier to achieve, which isn’t saying much given the virtual impossibility of a Constitutional amendment nowadays.

  • iangould

    There’s a big difference between proposing ALL states shift to allocating EC votes by district (which at least some Democrats were doing) and proposing i only in those states where it would assist your party (which is what Republicans are doing).

  • Pingback: Election Rigging 101 « Foster Disbelief()

  • =8)-DX

    Political parties shouldn’t define voting blocks. These should be determined by independent commission (beaurocrats) with bipartisan oversight according to pre-determined statistical and spatial criteria (postal and municipal regions, population size, geographic features, transport/residential hubs/blocks).

    That’s all – don’t see how the electoral college comes into this particular argument (about allowing politically biased/affiliated people define voting blocks).