A “Proportional Electoral Vote” Power Grab?

I haven’t paid much attention to talk among Republicans about changing the electoral-vote allocation system in battleground states won by Obama in 2008 and 2012 because I figured it was a bluff: it was too controversial and too subject to reversal by Democrats, unless you think Republicans will be able to perpetually hold power at the state level in states (like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) that tend to go Democratic in presidential elections.

Now I’m beginning to reconsider this dismissive attitude, based on a comment by George Mason University elections expert Michael McDonald quoted in a piece on the subject by National Journal‘s Reid Wilson:

Tweaks of electoral-vote rules are hardly unprecedented, according to Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University. State legislatures routinely changed Electoral College allocation rules in the early years of the Republic; the political fallout then can inform present-day lawmakers considering the changes.

“State legislative elections became tantamount to the presidential election in a state. Local issues were put aside for presidential politics,” McDonald said. “These states legislators thus risk the nationalization of their state politics, to the detriment of their personal careers. State legislators learned that once they fixed the Electoral College rules, national politics no longer dominated state elections.”

Hmm. That sounds less like a bug than a feature if you’re a Republican, at least in those states where control of the governorship and at least one state legislative chamber is typically determined during midterm elections. The effect of the “proportional electoral vote system” is to project congressional gerrymandering into the presidential results. The effect of state influence over presidential elections is to project state legislative gerrymandering as well; both sets of gerrymanders currently favor Republicans in the states we are talking about. Moreover, at a time when the electorate in presidential years leans Democratic while the electorate in midterms leans Republican, anything Republicans can to do make midterm elections more influential nationally is a big plus.

These proportional EV schemes might still go nowhere, but I’m less inclined now to believe that Republicans wouldn’t take some risks in pursuing them. Democrats would be wise to keep their atennas up on this subject, and scream bloody murder if Republicans actually begin to move in this direction in any states.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.