According to news reports, Republicans in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, frustrated at their inability to carry those states in the presidential election, are dusting off plans to change the way electoral votes are allocated. The idea is to award electoral votes according to which candidate wins each congressional district, rather than the customary allocation of all the state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state as a whole.
Now, the Electoral College (EC) in itself is inherently undemocratic: it was devised by the Founding Fathers to place Serious People, people of substance, between the rabble of voters and the actual selection of the President. The electors were supposed to deliberate. As it has evolved, the EC simply rubberstamps the result in each state. But because it has been the custom to allocate all of a state’s votes to the popular vote winner, it tends to magnify the margin of the winner. Its impact on campaigns is to focus almost all attention on big swing states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, while ignoring both small states and big non-swingers like Texas, California, and New York. That is, most of the country gets ignored in presidential campaigns, while Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia see a lot of the candidates.
The democratic response to this grotesque, dysfunctional anachronism would be to abolish it and make our country like every other democracy: we elect our leaders by popular vote, period. Instead, the Republicans propose to tweak the system to their advantage by mandating allocation of electoral votes by congressional district only in states where they would lose a statewide vote. Wherever they stand to win such a vote, they wouldn’t hear of changing the system.
It gets worse. Having captured control of the legislatures in a majority of states in the low-turnout wave election of 2010, they promptly gerrymandered their congressional districts to their advantage, such that Democrats in both Virginia and Pennsylvania are concentrated in only a few districts. Republicans in Pennsylvania have a lock on 13 of 18 congressional districts in a state with a Democratic majority, a state that is always competitive at the statewide level. The GOP proposes to leverage its gerrymandering advantage into an Electoral College advantage.
And yet worse: unlike Maine and Nebraska, which allocate two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, the proposals in Virginia and Pennsylvania would allocate those two votes to the winner of the most congressional districts. That in effect double-leverages the gerrymandering, like a compound bow.
These proposals are so blatantly discriminatory that even courts that have been tolerant of redistricting manipulation will have to take notice. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits any state from denying to citizens the equal protection of the laws. These proposals systematically seek to block popular majorities in presidential elections.
If you can’t win it legitimately, change the rules.
Friday, 25 January 2013