Rigging the election for beginners

It’s starting to look as if this may become a reality, at least in some locations. Three states with Republican controlled legislatures which Barack Obama carried in the last election are already looking at a proposals to change their electoral college split from winner takes all to a division by congressional districts. As we’ve previously noted, this would give the GOP a decided advantage in several key states for the next presidential election, even if they once again lost the popular vote.

Nebraska and Maine now award one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and the other two to the statewide winner. If other states were to follow this model, it could dramatically change the way Americans elect their president. In the current political climate, it also could put Democrats at a disadvantage in states Obama won but where Republican legislatures drew congressional district lines to maximize GOP performance.

I’ve gone into this before, but everything about this looks bad. It’s not that it’s unconstitutional or illegal in any fashion, but the image is about as horrible as you can get. Granted… this could work. It might even win a presidential election which repeated recent patterns for the Democrats. But at what cost? It seems as if both sides are rushing to either justify or condemn this without any long term consideration. For example, Professor Jacobson.

While awarding electors by congressional district may favor Republicans now in some states, it may favor Democrats in the future, just as the winner take all favors Democrats now. To take a temporal view and declare it “cheating” shows that the accuser is politicizing the issue just as much as the alleged cheaters.

On the other side, Mother Jones seems to feel that it’s the end of the world.

Republicans are picking and choosing different systems in different states, with not even a pretense that they’re doing it for any reason aside from choosing whichever system benefits Republicans the most in each state. This is so obviously outrageous that it’s likely to prompt a backlash.

I don’t think either of these stances addresses the real point here. While perfectly legal, this is such an obvious, national move as to be absurd. The other two states currently doing this EC vote splitting decided on it as a rather odd, unique, grass roots initiative. To suddenly have several swing states launch into it right after losing an election is so clearly a case of national level manipulation that it will further inflame national sentiment against a party which is already sliding in national approval. Is that really how you want to win for one or two cycles? Isn’t it better to make a solid case for conservative values and win on the merits?

Angering the larger public with sleight of hand tricks to take the White House with a losing popular vote margin seems short sighted in the extreme. Most of my arguments against the Electoral College reflect the fact that it distorts the wider public vote. Some hijinks like this could get the Electoral College voted out all the sooner. Maybe it buys you one or two election cycles, but if you really value the EC, the long term fallout could be far worse.

Maine and Nebraska are not, in my opinion, examples to be emulated. They are cautionary tales to be avoided unless it’s done on a national scale. It is, as I previously wrote, a situation with no easy solution. We don’t want to tell the states what to do on their own turf, but when they vote for the President, they are taking part in a national effort. The system would work best if it was standardized – either way – across the country. Or, absent that remedy, just doing away with the electoral college entirely.

On the plus side, Virginia seems to be rejecting it already.

The prospects appear doomed in Virginia this year for Republican-backed legislation that would replace the state’s winner-take-all method of apportioning presidential electoral votes with one that awards one vote to the winner of each congressional district.

Virginia is the first of several states carried in November by President Barack Obama where the Republican-controlled legislature is considering measures to replace the winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes. The Virginia legislation survived a state Senate subcommittee on a 3-3 vote this week, but two Republicans on the full committee said Friday they would oppose the bill when it comes up for a committee vote next week, effectively killing it.

And should it clear the legislature, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Friday he opposes it. Spokesman J. Tucker Martin said McDonnell, a Republican, “believes Virginia’s system works just fine.”

Florida doesn’t look interested either. I’ll be waiting to see how the other states handle it. This is nothing to rush into.