December 17, 2012

There was a lot of chatter today about National Journal’s report that national Republicans are pushing a plan to…well, there’s no other way to say it: they’re pushing a plan to rig presidential elections.

They would do this by changing the electoral college allocation in a handful of Democratic-leaning states — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all of which currently have Republican governors and Republican-majority legislatures. Instead of the winner-take-all system that all states but Maine and Nebraska use, those states would switch to either a district or proportional system. Essentially, the plan is to draft rules that would basically split the electoral votes in those states evenly, thus wiping out a good-sized edge Democrats get.

Naturally, they’re claiming that the new allocation would be “fair” — but there’s certainly not going to be any effort to secure that same “fair” allocation in Texas or other solidly Republican states. Both the district and the proportional plans are bad ideas if applied nationally, but selectively applying them to only a handful of states is basically an attempt to steal elections.

Fortunately, it’s unlikely that it will happen. As I’ve argued, unlike the cases in which state Republican parties have tried to strip unions of resources or engaged in gerrymanders, the incentives on this one are at cross-purposes. What’s good for the national GOP would be quite bad for Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and probably even worse for Republican legislators and governors in those states. 

What’s more, it’s not even clear that national Republicans have thought this through very carefully. According to Wilson, “Republican operatives say they would like to pursue similar Electoral College reform in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.” And yet Florida and Ohio were both more Republican in 2012 than the nation as a whole; splitting electoral votes there could easily hurt a future Republican presidential candidate. In fact, if just Florida, Ohio, and Virginia had split their votes, Al Gore would certainly have beat George W. Bush in 2000 and John Kerry would probably have defeated Bush in 2004. 

Even if they don’t do end up doing this, it’s a disgrace that national Republicans are talking it up. You really can’t get more anti-democratic than selectively changing election rules to give your side an advantage. It’s bad enough when partisans support general rules in order to help them — such as the GOP embrace of voter ID and other schemes that might tend to keep Democrats away from the polls. But to do it selectively? Awful.