January 25, 2013

As you may have heard, Republicans are pushing for changes in the electoral vote system in states like Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin — to maximize their advantage in future presidential elections in the face of demographic shifts that may be inexorably undermining their chances at winning national elections.

Republicans want these states, which went for Obama in the last two elections but are controlled by the GOP at the state level, to apportion electoral votes based on who wins each Congressional district. If just the six states above used this system, Mitt Romney would have been elected president. RNC chair Reince Priebus recently voiced support for the idea, while couching it as something that the states will decide.

This is mostly being fought out on the state level, but the DNC is now weighing in with a statement slamming the idea — raising the possibility that if Republicans take this national, Democrats will respond in kind. DNC spokesperson Melanie Roussell emails:

Although Republicans are couching their proposals in language of fairness, the motivation for changing the Electoral College is purely partisan. The Republican party lost in 2012 because they failed to appeal to the majority of voters in states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin. They know they can’t win on the issues, so they’re resorting to underhanded tactics and undermining the majority of voters in blue states.

Just as the American people fought the Republican party’s attempts in 2012, we will oppose any future attempts to ignore the wishes of the electorate and make changes to the electoral college for partisan purposes.

I’m told that the DNC has been in conversations with state parties and officials in the states where the GOP is eying electoral vote changes, about how to respond to what’s happening.

It’s unclear how far Republicans will get with this scheme. For one thing, the politics of it are very tricky: It’s hard to selectively rig the electoral college in ways that give  you partisan advantage without, well, looking as if you’re selectively rigging the electoral college in ways that give you partisan advantage. All of this, of course, comes after Republicans have pursued a variety of crackdowns on voting — sorry, voter fraud — on the state level that also seem like a response to inexorable demographic trends that are undermining the GOP’s national strength. Democrats mobilized against those efforts, and had surprising success beating them back in the courts last cycle (though the overall battle against them is anything but won). Some Democratic operatives even believe they provoked a backlash that ultimately helped the Democratic Party.

If anything, the GOP’s latest scheme is more nakedly political and partisan than its voter ID campaigns have been. At present, it’s unclear how much of an appetite there is for this among national Republicans and even among some state level officials. After all, GOP governors in some these states have been through some bruising political battles over labor and budget issues, and may not have the appetite for a scheme that is so plainly nothing but a massive partisan power grab. Meanwhile, national Republicans are grappling with serious GOP brand problems. The possibility that this whole thing could turn into a messy national fight could end up dissuading more prudent Republicans from following this course.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.