The Electoral College Rigging Scheme in Perspective

So if you’ve been semi-aware of the fast-developing story of state-level Republicans in battleground states proposing changes in electoral college allocations, here’s the clearest account so far, from Emory’s Alan Abramowitz at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

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….

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.

A very different election, eh? And Abramowitz also makes the more basic point that such tricks would simply expose by greatly worsening them the inequities inherent to the electoral college system:

If we can’t have direct popular election of the president — the method that would clearly be the most democratic and the method that polls have consistently found that the large majority of Americans favor — then the next best method of choosing the president is probably the current one of awarding electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. The current system appears to minimize the chances of an electoral vote misfire in which the winner of the popular vote loses the electoral vote. In contrast, the congressional district method would greatly increase the chances of such a misfire.

The GOP electoral vote gambit will only succeed if it’s conducted as a blitzkrieg, before the public figures it out and says: “Hey, cut out the crap!” So this is one outrage where making some noise is essential.

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.