Monday, January 28, 2013

A New Way To Win! Changing the EV Rules

There has been a lot of talk recently about a new Republican strategy: having states decide to assign their Electoral Votes by congressional district rather than the general practice of winner-take-all by popular vote. Why do this?

Because it's a way to win without expanding their collation. Sparsely populated (but generally white Republican) areas outside of urban centers are reliably Republican in most of the swing states. When most of the population lives in the cities, this means that while a lot of districts go red, the sum total of the votes (one-man, one-vote) lean to the blue zone.

The states in question--where this could actually happen as Republicans control both the governor and both houses of the legislature-- are Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. These were key swing-states (or almost-swing-states) and, if they made this rule things would have been tight:
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.
On the other hand, what if EVERY state did this? From FiveThirtyEight:
Hello President Romney ...
There are a few things it is important to keep in mind:

  1. Yielding EV this way is legal. It is within the constitution and two other states (Maine and Nebraska) already do this to a degree. This is not "stealing the election" in the sense that, say people voting multiple times would be. It is gaming the system--to be sure--but it is still the system.
  2. It doesn't change "one-man / one-vote" exactly because the same number of voters are competing for the same numbers of electors--it can also be said that the Electoral College isn't exactly a democratic institution to begin with.
On The Other Hand
Slate has a good article that says Don't Panic. Author Richard Hasen lays out several reasons why this isn't likely to happen:
  1. Elections would be run differently under these rules. There would be less attempts to "run up the score" in cities and more attempts to turn out voters across the board. While this might favor Republicans to a degree, it would certainly be a different terrain. Also: the last thing individual Republican house members want is the Dem machine trying to turn their red-districts blue: they have to win re-election. Today a lot of them get a free pass from the big money.
  2. It's good to be a swing state. If these states become less competitive they'll lose out to more competitive ones. If Ohio doesn't to this and VA does, we may see even MORE money and favors poured into Ohio.
  3. The optics suck: it makes it look like you can't win.
  4. There is a theory that 'voter suppression' attempts caused a minority-driven backlash in a lot of states where people were more fired up to vote because the number of voting days were decreased or whatever. Maybe. This would, similarly, provoke backlash.
It also appears that some states are rejecting it anyway. Hot Air's resident squish Jazz Shaw thinks it looks awful. Real Clear Politics' Republican leaning Sean Trende thinks it's a terrible idea (he thinks that in the future it may have unintended consequences and encourages radical gerrymandering among other things).

What Do I Think?
I think the optics are clearly terrible: doing this after a loss (getting curb-stomped if you prefer) in the last election makes it look like you are simply going for the throat. While the same number of voters-per-elector are the same (noted above) the number of "wasted votes" could be astronomical. That's a kind of disenfranchisement even if it isn't numerically different.

Looking at the comments sections from several blogs I am struck by two things:

  1. A sense of righteousness because the Democrats do things that are so dirty that anything is justified. These posters believe that the data makes it clear (and incontestable) that the Democrats had massively fraudulent voting (in the millions of votes) which the Republican party is somehow unable to stop. This extreme lawlessness justifies anything (possibly even things extra-legal) when it comes to winning elections.
  2. A sense of despair: the % of the white vote isn't going up. The % of the Republican black-vote isn't going up. There are about to be millions more Democratic-leaning hispanics in the country once amnesty hits. In 20 years or whatever, Texas will turn blue.
This outlook is clearly bunk: the Republicans are not so helpless nor is voter-fraud so apparent that the Democrats can get away with simply counting the ballots however they want (and if they could, how would this help?). Secondly, while demographics look bad for the Republicans today this only becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if they, for example, demonize Rubio for any expanded path to citizenship or continue to talk about building an electrified fence with free-lance boarder guards ready to shotgun anyone who does make it through. 

It's possible to really turn off minorities and women--but generally you have to keep trying at it ("legitimate rape") and if the GOP just can't help itself from talking stupid that isn't the fault of the Democrats or the voters.

I think this idea is an amped-up legal version of the succession thinking: if you believe you have utterly lost the American people--that you can no longer trust the American voter--then you have only one option left: fewer voters. Succession does this by leaving the country. This and gerrymandering does this by making certain votes count less. 

Either way, it's a strategy that comes from a loss of faith and loss of nerve ... and it looks like it.

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