The stealing of the next Presidential election, and Michigan’s evolving role

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.

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  1. Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    And, because I can’t stop, here’s something from Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

    …As the electorate continues to become less white and more liberal in its outlook on social issues, Republicans have two choices about how to improve their party’s prospects in future presidential elections. One approach would be to adopt more moderate positions on issues such as immigration, abortion, gay rights and health care in order to make their party more appealing to young people, women and nonwhites. But that strategy would risk alienating a large portion of the GOP’s current base, especially those aligned with the Tea Party movement. So rather than adopting that risky strategy, some Republican leaders appear to be opting for a different approach — changing the electoral rules to make it easier for a Republican candidate to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote.

    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.

    The Electoral College system for choosing the president is an antiquated relic. It was adopted by the framers of the Constitution in order to limit the influence of ordinary people on the selection of the president by having state legislatures choose the electors. But the Electoral College today doesn’t work anything like the way the framers intended it to work. The state legislatures long ago gave the power to choose the electors to the voters in their states and the voters now choose between slates of electors prepared by the political parties…

  2. Edward
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    This is definitely going to happen. There’s no reason to think that Republicans will show restraint here, when they haven’t elsewhere.

  3. anonymous
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile the NAACP is focused on the right of minority communities to access large sugary drinks.

  4. Meta
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    The Center for American Progress released a report this morning on this very subject.

    Here is their announcement.

    The GOP’s Plan to Rig the Electoral College & Steal the White House

    January 24, 2013 | By ThinkProgress War Room

    Republican politicians have a big problem. Their massively unpopular policies and offensive rhetoric about minorities, women, and LGBT people have alienated vast swaths of the electorate, making it increasingly difficult for them to win national elections. And these problems are only getting worse as the country’s attitudes evolves and its demographics change. In fact, the Republican candidate has lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections. The Republicans’ Solution: Re-Write the Rules to Game the System and Rig Elections Instead of addressing their fundamental problems, Republican politicians have instead devoted themselves to re-writing the rules and rigging the game:

    Make it Harder to Vote: Republican politicians are engaged in a systematic campaign to change voting laws and election procedures in order make it harder for young people, minorities, and others likely to vote Democratic to vote.

    Gerrymander: Because of partisan gerrymandering after the 2010 Census, Republicans have a structural advantage when it comes to the House of Representatives. Even though more than a million more people voted for Democrats for the House in 2012, Republicans still managed to hold on to the House with a 15-seat majority.

    Rig the Game: Now Republican-controlled swing states are trying to rig the Electoral College in order to steal the White House.

    How It Works

    Red States Stay the Same: Truly red states keep the current winner-take-all system, thus delivering all of their electoral votes to the Republican candidate.

    Swing States Get Divided Up: Swing states currently controlled by Republicans (VA, OH, WI, MI, PA, NC, and FL) will award their electoral votes by Congressional District. Through gerrymandering, Republicans have managed to pack Democrats into a small number of districts, giving the GOP a large advantage in the aggregate number of House seats they hold in these states.

    Bonus Votes for Republicans: In some versions of this plan, the two remaining electoral votes in each state that are not associated with a House district would still be awarded to the winner of the state’s popular vote. Virginia, however, has an even more pernicious plan; its plan would award the other two votes to the winner of a majority of the state’s congressional districts. If other swing states adopted this plan, it could shift an extra dozen or more electoral votes to the Republican candidate — a number equivalent to the electoral votes of Virginia or the votes of Iowa and Nevada combined.

    The Result — President Romney

    The GOP plan to rig the Electoral College means that even if a Democrat wins the popular vote in a state by a comfortable margin, the Republican candidate could still walk away with as many two-thirds or even three-quarters of the state’s Electoral College votes.
    If Republican-controlled swing states had put this plan into effect before the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would likely be the president today thanks to the shift in electoral votes in key states. If all of these states chose the Virginia model that gives Republicans two bonus electoral votes per state, then Mitt Romney would definitely have been the one to be sworn in this past Monday.

    This Threat Is Real & Is Happening Now

    This GOP plan to rig the Electoral College and steal the White House is not simply theoretical in nature. It’s a real threat to our democracy. Republicans — including two GOP governors — are actually considering this plan in several of these states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Republicans in the Virginia Senate are trying to pass just such a plan right now. For more information on this scheme, please see the full report released today by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

    BOTTOM LINE: Instead of trying to win fair and square by persuading voters that their values and ideas are the best for America, Republicans are now instead trying to re-write the rules in order to rig the system in their favor and steal the White House.

    The report:

  5. Elliott
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    What would it take to make this happen in Michigan? Do they have the votes?

  6. anonymous
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    MSNBC is on it as well.

    This is really happening.

  7. lorie thom
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I know this might seem insane, but really, why not just a simple popular vote tally?

  8. John Galt
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve said it before but it would be much more efficient if we just allowed the wealthy to purchase our votes. Think of how great it would be to have a little extra spending money for the holidays. Wouldn’t that be nice? You could buy a nice dinner at Red Lobster, or a Ted Nugent CD. It would be perfect.

  9. Posted January 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    This is what the political class knows.

    Most people, voters, do their duty in the general elections and move on. They don’t have the time or much inclination to follow the minutiae of this kind of political infighting. In other words they don’t care, until they do.

    Political machinations like redistricting and to some extent party primary elections are the insiders game and most folk don’t have the time or enough energy to make the effort to understand who this kind of stuff affects the outcome.

  10. Anonymous Mike
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    And Snyder had the audacity to accuse the unions of overreaching. Disgusting.

  11. 734
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    The thing is, it doesn’t matter. We’re too late. The earth is dead. The experiment failed.

  12. Meta
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Good news. It looks like their efforts in Virginia might be fizzling. Rachel Maddow is reporting that state Senators Laura Conaway and Ralph Smith are likely not supportive.

  13. Posted January 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    734, I had a “cold day” off of work on Tuesday and went to see Chasing Ice. I would encourage everyone to see it, even though I know the deniers/haters will say it doesn’t mean anything or that it wasn’t caused by humans or that God is just fucking with us. It’s a very chilling (hahahahaHA!!!!) film.

  14. MrMikesHardCoreSot
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    ‘I’ve said it before but it would be much more efficient if we just allowed the wealthy to purchase our votes. Think of how great it would be to have a little extra spending money for the holidays.”

    I think this would be an excellent idea. The cost of “our votes” would be equivalent to the cost of 2200 Abrams tanks firing rounds at 24 hours a day for 365 days a year on the ruling class elitist enclaves in this country. And then crushing the rubble into dust.

  15. james
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    Republicans: for state’s rights and Federalism, until they might get some short-term gain out of tearing it down.

    I am not sure why any state politicians would be willing to turn their states into a bunch of North Dakota-sized electoral blocks.

  16. Posted January 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re right on that this is about gaming the system further, rather than any actual reform. Perhaps the counter-offer here in Michigan would be to support the National Popular Vote Compact, which has states committing (legislatively) that they will assign their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, as soon as 270 electoral votes worth of states have signed on.

    In 2008, the Michigan House passed such a bill by a 65-35 margin; several Michigan Senators introduced similar legislation but it did not pass. A2/Ypsi’s Senator Warren was one of the co-sponsors at that time; perhaps she could be encouraged to reintroduce that idea.

    Meanwhile, I will quibble with the state-level diagrams you’re using (I know they’re not yours) — they fall into the standard fallacy of showing electoral districts by land area, rather than by population, which might lead the casual observer to believe that votes really *should* be skewed more towards those big fat red areas.

  17. Posted January 26, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Murph. I’ve been looking into the National Popular Vote Compact… and I agree with you about the graphic. If you can find another that makes the point better, let me know and I’ll add it.

  18. Meta
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Ohio’s Ken Blackwell is involved.

    Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R), who was the chief elections officer when the state experienced massive voting problems in 2004, is planning to lead a national effort to rig the electoral college in favor of the 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

    Republicans who hold power in states that have voted Democratic in the last few presidential contests, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, are considering a change to their apportionment of electoral votes. Instead of a winner-take-all system for the state, electoral votes would be doled out by congressional district, using highly-gerrymandered maps. The result is that a state like Pennsylvania, which voted for President Obama by more than 5 percent in 2012, would have given most of its electoral votes to Mitt Romney.

    That plan is now receiving national backing, thanks to Blackwell and GOP operative Jordan Gehrke. The two men detailed their effort in an interview with the Atlantic and conceded that the effort could make it easier for Republicans to win the White House:

    ATLANTIC: You are a Republican operative, though. And it’s Republican legislators who are pushing this in all the states where it’s come up so far. You can claim this is about policy, but doesn’t it really make it easier for Republicans to win presidential elections?

    BLACKWELL & GEHRKE: That could be a byproduct, depending on who drew the lines last and who’s running – a lot of different things. What it’s really about is making sure that more people in more congressional districts get attention.

    Read more:

  19. Dem Gov Ass
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Sign our petition to tell Rick Snyder to STOP Michigan Republicans from plotting to steal the presidency!

  20. Anonymous Mike
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how practical a recall effort would be, but might it not demonstrate to Snyder that he’s gone too far?

  21. Elf
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    The Nation has 3 things that people can do.


    Because election rules are often arcane, those who write them have an advantage. If they move quickly and quietly, they can “fix” the system to their advantage.

    Priebus made a mistake several weeks ago when he spoke openly about the Electoral College scheme, announcing: “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue [Democratic in presidential politics] that are fully controlled red [in the statehouse] ought to be considering.”

    When The Nation began writing several weeks ago about the Priebus plan, and specific efforts in swing states, the stories went viral. Social media matters in this struggle. So, too, does the attention coming from television and radio hosts such as MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Thom Hartmann.

    The attention “names and shames” Republicans who are implementing the Priebus plan in states such as Virginia. But it also puts pressure on Republicans who are considering doing so. Significantly, when Florida legislative leaders were asked by The Miami Herald about the proposal, the biggest swing state’s most powerful Republicans scrambled to distance themselves from the anti-democratic initiative. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said, “To me, that’s like saying in a football game, ‘We should have only three quarters, because we were winning after three quarters and the beat us in the fourth. I don’t think we need to change the rules of the game, I think we need to get better.”

    Florida Senate President Don Gaetz was similarly dismissive. “I think we should abolish the Electoral College but nobody in Washington has called to ask for my opinion,” said Gaetz. “If James Madison had asked me, and I had been there, I would have said a popular vote is a better way to do it.”

    He’s right.


    Priebus and his allies will claim that assigning electoral votes via gerrymandered congressional districts gives more Americans a voice in the process—even though that “voice” could allow a minority to claim a state and the presidency.

    The right response is to highlight the anti-democratic character of the Electoral College and to push for a national popular vote. This will require a constitutional amendment. That takes work. But the process is in play. States across the country have endorsed plans to respect the popular vote that are advanced by FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy.

    “The very fact that a scenario [in which a rigged Electoral College allows a popular-vote loser to become president] is even legally possible should give us all pause,” argues FairVote’s Rob Richie. “Election of the president should be a fair process where all American voters should have an equal ability to hold their president accountable. It’s time for the nation to embrace one-person, one-vote elections and the ‘fair fight’ represented by a national popular vote. Let’s forever dismiss the potential of such electoral hooliganism and finally do what the overwhelming majorities of Americans have consistently preferred: make every vote equal with a national popular vote for president.”

    Understanding, talking about and promoting the National Popular Vote campaign is an essential response to every proposal to rig the Electoral College. It pulls the debate out of the weeds of partisanship and appeals to a sense of fairness in Democrats, independents and responsible Republicans.


    The assignment of electoral votes based on congressional district lines is not unheard of. Two smaller states—Nebraska and Maine—have done it for years. But this approach with gerrymandering schemes that draw district lines to favor one party has the potential to dismantle democracy at the national level.

    The courts have criticized gerrymandering, and even suggested that there may be instances where it is unconstitutional. But they have been shamefully lax in their approach to the issue—at least in part out of deference to the authority extended to individual states when it comes to drawing district lines. But when gerrymandering threatens the integrity of national elections and the governing of the country, this opens a new avenue for challenging what remains the most common tool for rigging elections.

    It is time for state attorneys general who have track records of supporting democracy initiatives, such as New York’s Eric Schneiderman, and state elections officials, such as Minnesota’s Mark Ritchie, to start looking at legal strategies to challenging the Priebus plan in particular and gerrymandering as it influences national elections. This really is an assault on the one-person, one-vote premise of the American experiment. And retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, among others, is advocating for a renewed push on behalf of fair elections.

    “[It] goes back to the fundamental equal protection principle that government has the duty to be impartial. When it’s engaged in districting it should be impartial,” Stevens explained in a recent interview. “Nowadays, the political parties acknowledge that they are deliberately trying to gerrymander the districts in a way that will help the majority.”

    This, argues Stevens, is “outrageously unconstitutional in my judgment. The government cannot gerrymander for the purpose of helping the majority party; the government should be redistricting for the purpose of creating appropriate legislative districts. And the government ought to start with the notion that districts should be compact and contiguous as statutes used to require.”

    Stevens says the courts, which often intervene on voting rights cases involving minority representation, and in cases where states with divided government cannot settle on new district lines, should engage with the purpose of countering gerrymandering.

    “If the Court followed neutral principles in whatever rules they adopted, the rules would apply equally to the Republicans and Democrats,” says the retired Justice, a key player on voting and democracy issues during his thirty-five-year tenure on the High Court. “I think that line of cases would generate a body of law such as the one-person, one-vote cases that would be administered in a neutral way. This is one of my major disappointments in my entire career: that I was so totally unsuccessful in persuading the Court on something so obviously correct. Indeed, I think that the Court’s failure to act in this area is one of the things that has contributed to the much greater partisanship in legislative bodies…”

    Justice Stevens is right. That partisanship has moved from gerrymandering the state lines and US House lines to gerrymandering the presidential vote. The moment is ripe for a constitutional intervention.

  22. anon
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    what did my liberal friends make of obama’s long bout of dishonesty last night?

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  1. […] measure has apparently fizzled in Virginia, have every intention of moving forward with plans to change the way our electoral votes are cast for President. Here’s a clip: State House Republican leaders say they have no plans to scrap discussions […]

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