A week or so ago, in a post about partisan redistricting, I noted that rumors were beginning to circulate concerning a Republican push to change the way Michigan’s electoral college votes are cast in presidential elections. Presently, as I suspect you know, Michigan has 16 electoral votes, and all of them go to the candidate who wins a majority of the state’s popular vote. Last November, for instance, when Obama took 54% of the popular vote in Michigan, he was awarded all 16 of our electoral votes, making him the sixth straight Democratic candidate for President to do so. And, as you can probably imagine, this doesn’t sit well with Republicans, who, for innumerable reasons, would prefer never to see another Democrat in the White House. So, it wasn’t hard for me to believe that the Republicans in Lansing, emboldened by the fact that they got away with murder during the lame duck session, may attempt to change the “winner take all” system in earnest, replacing it with a scheme in which electoral votes are divided among the state’s Congressional districts and allotted accordingly. (Legislation has been proposed it the past to this effect, but it’s never gone gotten traction.) To give you a sense as to what this would mean, if such a system had been in place this past November, 9 of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes would have gone to Romney, in spite of the fact that Obama had won the statewide popular vote by 10%. (This, of course, is due to the fact that the Republican legislature has redrawn the district lines in such a way as to not only ensure conservative victories for the foreseeable future, but marginalize voters in more densely-packed urban centers by essentially devaluing their votes relative to those of voters in predominantly conservative, suburban areas.)
But there’s good news… Governor Snyder says that, if this this were to happen, it would be some time off, as it’s not something that he’s pushing. But, then again, he also said that right-to-work legislation wasn’t ‘on (his) agenda,’ and we all saw what happened there.
Here, for those of you who are still inclined to believe him, is what Snyder had to say to the Associate Press:
…Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he “could go either way” on the change and doesn’t plan to push it. But he said it’s a reasonable issue to debate and that he prefers that leaders discuss it well before the next presidential election.
“It could be done in a thoughtful (way) over the next couple years and people can have a thoughtful discussion,” Snyder said…
Based on how right-to-work went down, I think we need to assume that something similar will happen here, and plan accordingly. We need to assume that the Republicans will do whatever they can, no matter how loathsome, to see their agenda furthered… And, if you don’t believe me, just ask the people of Virginia, where, just a few days ago, Republicans in their legislature, taking advantage of the fact that one of their Democratic colleagues was in D.C. for Obama’s inauguration, giving them the slight edge that they needed vote-wise, pushed a contentious redistricting bill through the legislature without debate, and advanced a plan that would see their electoral votes for President distributed by Congressional district, as outlined above. Here, with more on that, is a clip from Talking Points Memo:
…Virginia’s bill, which emerged from a subcommittee on a tie vote Wednesday, would award the state’s electoral votes by individual congressional districts, with its two at-large electors going to whichever candidate won the most districts. But the districts, which were redrawn under Republican control in 2010, are so gerrymandered that President Obama would have won just four votes to Mitt Romney’s nine despite handily winning the state’s popular vote. As Richie noted, the result would be to massively water down Democratic votes concentrated into a few urban districts — many of them cast by African Americans — while boosting the impact of whiter and more rural districts.
“It is basically an obvious attempt by the Republican senator who proposed it and the Republicans who are backing it to completely distort the outcome of Virginia’s presidential electors,” Devin McCarthy, a research fellow for FairVote told TPM. “It would effectively guarantee Republicans at least 8 votes in Virginia no matter what happened in a national election, whereas this year they won 0.”…
In addition to Virginia and Michigan, it should be noted that Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are also considering similar legislation. And, here’s an interesting factoid… If all six of those states, which are currently controlled by Republicans, had changed over to such a system prior to the 2012 election, “Romney would have won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by nearly four points.”
I’m not adverse to the idea of reconsidering how we elect our President. Personally I think that it might be worth considering a nationwide popular vote. But I don’t think the solution is allowing one party to game the system by constructing Congressional districts that are essentially unlosable, and then leveraging that fact to keep a Republican in the White House in perpetuity. (It should be noted that all of this talk of electoral college reform is taking place in states governed by Republicans that typically vote Democrat for President. This, in other words, isn’t an across-the-board push for reform. This is about gaming the system to extract electoral votes from blue states, while keeping the status quo in red states.)
The bottom line is that we need to kill this before it gets off the ground, folks. Any ideas as to how we do that? I know it would be an uphill battle, but how about launching a coordinated nationwide movement for a non-partisan federal organization, like the one they have in Canada, which is responsible for administering our federal elections, and ensuring a level playing field? I know it would be an uphill battle, as all of the red states would fight back, claiming “states rights,” but perhaps it’s a fight worth having.
The following image, which comes courtesy of our friends at the Center for American Progress, does a pretty good job of illustrating what we’re up against.