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Gaming the Electoral College

September 19, 2011

Over at ThinkProgress, they have two posts on Republicans gaming the Electoral College. In Pennsylvania, the Republicans who control the State Legislature and the Governorship are considering going from winner-take-all allocation to allocation by individual Congressional districts. Combined with the Republicans’ ability to gerrymander to their hearts’ content, this would likely result in a loss of eight EC votes for Obama. In Nebraska, the Republicans who control the State Legislature and the Governorship are considering going from allocation based on who wins individual Congressional districts to winner-take-all. This would make it virtually assured that Obama would not gain the one EC vote he won in the Lincoln-Omaha area.

As ThinkProgress asserts, this is naked election rigging. Except that it’s completely legal. If Democrats had total control of a state government with an unfavorable allocation scheme, they could change it themselves. Republicans are using the defects of the system to their advantage, as they’ve done without fail since 2008. The solution isn’t to call the Republicans out and expect some type of politeness from the Republicans; it’s been tried before. The solution is to change the system.

The Electoral College system needs to be reformed because it produces antidemocratic outcomes, like 2000. The Republican vote-rigging plans aren’t inherently bad; they’re bad because they increase the practical possibility of an anti-democratic outcome in 2012. Republicans also control the governments of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, all states that Obama won in 2008. If those states make the same changes as Pennsylvania (i.e. gerrymandering and EC allocation by Congressional district), Obama could win the popular vote by a large margin and still lose in the Electoral College. In my view, this would be an unprecedented crisis for our democracy. Could a Republican candidate who won substantially less votes nationwide than Obama assume the presidency?

The obvious solution is to abolish the Electoral College but that would take a Constitutional amendment – the allocation of presidential electors is left to the states in Art. II, Sec. 1. An amendment would be exceedingly unlikely to succeed as it wouldn’t be supported by smaller (conservative) states which benefit unfairly from the Electoral College. Some states, including California, have passed laws which would allocate all their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national vote once states comprising a majority of the Electoral College agreed to do the same. So far, not many have passed similar legislation but, if they did, it would assure that the President was the candidate who the most Americans chose on Election Day. The Republicans’ actions increase the possibility that the opposite will be true. It would be an unfortunate outcome for our country.

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