Updated: 11:45 PM ET February 11, 2013
Electoral College Roulette
In the aftermath of the 2012 Presidential election there are, not surprisingly, three proposals for Electoral College reform. None of them are without partisan impact or about having a fair election in which every vote is counted and the majority rule. Cokie and Steven V. Roberts, writing for The World, summed up the Republican effort at “Electoral College reform” which is nothing more than GOP skullduggery by Karl Rove crony and Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus. Priebus presided over the multimillion-dollar meltdown of the Romney/RNC voter identification and turnout program ORCA as well as ignominious defeat in GOP efforts to win the Senate and the White House:
'We must stop being the stupid party," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned fellow Republicans recently. 'It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults." Many Republicans apparently weren't listening, because they insist on doing stupid things. Exhibit A: lawmakers in a half-dozen states who are trying to alter the Electoral College system to give Republicans more votes. This is a desperate and ultimately self-defeating reaction to the changing demographics of America. The GOP calculus seems to be: We can never appeal to minorities, and we cannot win the presidency without them, so let's rig the system to reduce their influence -- and, in the process, really tick them off. The result will be to make minorities feel even more unwelcome in the Republican Party than they already do, and more likely to step up their organizing and voting efforts. In all but two cases, Maine and Nebraska, all of a state's electoral votes go to the winner of the popular vote. Republicans loved this system when they were regularly capturing the White House (five of seven times between 1980 and 2004). But Barack Obama's two victories have scared the heck out of them, and with good reason. In 1980, the electorate was 88 percent white, and Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of that vote in easily defeating Democrat Jimmy Carter. Last year, Mitt Romney actually bested Reagan among whites, winning 59 percent. But whites accounted for only 72 percent of the total vote, and Obama crushed Romney with minorities, taking 93 percent of blacks, 73 percent of Asians and 71 percent of Hispanics. These minority voters, often clustered in urban areas, provided key margins for Obama in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia. So, figured those brilliant GOP strategists, perhaps the law could be changed to allocate electoral votes by congressional district, thus boosting the leverage of rural areas and undercutting that Democratic advantage. If that alternative system had been in effect last fall in Virginia, for example, Romney would have won nine of 13 electoral votes -- even while losing the state by 150,000 popular votes. From a crass political viewpoint, it might be worth enraging minorities if the GOP ploy had any chance of working. But it doesn't. Smart Republicans are appalled. 'It's not going to happen in Virginia," insisted the state's ambitious Republican governor, Bob McDonnell. State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel called the scheme 'pretty shortsighted." Then a state Senate committee controlled by Republicans killed the bill. Even if these proposals somehow became law, they would immediately be challenged in court as racially biased. And that's exactly what they are. State Sen. Charles Carrico, the lead sponsor in Virginia, candidly explained his motive in The Washington Post: 'The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn't matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them." Most federal judges will surely understand that 'densely populated areas" -- along with 'urban" and 'metro" -- are code words for race. And by the way, Sen. Carrico, that's how democracy works. The majority wins. Blacks in Alabama and gays in Idaho also feel outvoted. Just because an idea is stupid doesn't make it surprising. Attempts to rig the Electoral College flow from the same motives that inspired Republican lawmakers to pass laws limiting voter participation in a dozen states last fall. Many of the laws were tossed out on legal grounds, but they gave Democrats in 'densely populated areas" a pitch-perfect rallying cry. The Nation quoted Matt Barreto, a pollster specializing in the Latino vote: 'There were huge organizing efforts in the black, Hispanic and Asian communities, more than there would have been, as a direct result of the voter suppression efforts." The Rev. Tony Minor, an African-American minister in Ohio, added: 'When they went after Big Mama's voting rights, they made all of us mad." Sanity has not completely deserted Republican ranks. In Florida, state House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters that Republicans don't need 'to change the rules of the game" and offered a different option: 'I think we need to get better." Fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio is doing exactly that, bravely joining a bipartisan group of U.S. senators in proposing a reasonable compromise on immigration reform. Jeb and George Bush have both proved that Republicans can win a decent share of Hispanic support if they respect and understand those voters. Subverting democracy by suffocating minorities is the opposite of respect. It ignores Jindal's advice and damages the Republican brand. Talk about stupid.Republicans are not alone in their plans to "cook" the Electoral College. Seth Lipsky, writing for the New York Post neatly skewers those on the left who have a different idea than Priebus and his cohorts about how to hijack the presidential election:
Democrats are up in arms about an effort to change the formula by which several so-called purple states allocate their votes in the Electoral College. The scheme would select the electors by congressional district, thereby increasing the odds, based on recent elections, for the Republicans to win the presidency. No wonder Democrats, and many others, are upset. Funny, though, that there's been hardly a peep from the Democrats about an even more radical scheme to change the way the president is elected -- the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This would require a state's delegates to the Electoral College to vote for whoever wins the national popular vote. Never mind who won in the state the electors come from. This idea really got going after 2000, when George W. Bush won the presidency even though he lost the national popular vote to Albert Gore. It's now been ratified, and passed into law, by eight states, who have a total of 132 electoral votes. Once the compact has been ratified by states with a total of 270 electors (that is, enough to command a majority in the Electoral College, and elect a president), every state that's ratified it will be required by its own law to order its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. New York, notably, is halfway there, since the state Senate has ratified the measure. If the scheme had been in effect in 2004, delegates to the Electoral College from New York would have had to cast the state's votes for George W. Bush even though John Kerry won the state by a margin of 1.4 million votes. Call it the purpling of New York. At the moment, the only institution standing between this scheme and New York state is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- who doesn't seem to be in any rush to embrace the idea. It may be that Silver's been persuaded by the pragmatic argument that the whole thing could blow up in his face: What if the scheme handed the White House to a Republican? It's not hard to imagine some Democratic states trying to back out, with the whole thing winding up in the courts in an even uglier mess than 2000. Still, Silver hasn't put out any principled statement in opposition. And the idea seems to be favored by those that hew to the Democratic Party. Every state that's ratified it -- Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois and California, plus the District of Columbia -- votes Democratic. The newspapers endorsing it lean the same way. One attraction is that it's much easier than amending the Constitution to actually eliminate the Electoral College; that would require three quarters of the states to approve. The Constitution says in Article II only that electors shall be appointed by each state "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." So the states, including New York, have a free hand. The question is whether they should play that hand the way their local voters say, or the way the voters in the rest of the country say. The New York Times endorsed the idea as recently as November. Its editorial complained of "the tarnish of the Electoral College" -- even though the candidate the paper endorsed, Barack Obama, had just again won the presidency. The compact's most eloquent advocate here is The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg, a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. He has argued that one of the advantages of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is precisely that it doesn't require a constitutional amendment. So if participating states turn out to be unhappy with the results, they can change the system back. Well, you could sell the Brooklyn Bridge back, too. The fact is, the drive for this popular-vote compact is part of a decades-long push by the Left against the idea that the states themselves have their own standing in the federal system. The Left even resents the existence of the Senate, where small states have the same representation as large ones. In short, the Founders wanted a system that was both national but also accommodated the immortal principle that politics is local.There is a third misguided proposal largely funded by billionaire B. Thomas Golisano for a National Popular Vote in which the Electoral College and its protection of the small states would be abolished entirely and in which the winner would be decided by the outcome national popular vote. This of course would put a real premium on voter fraud, vote stealing, big-city Democratic machines and other ACORN-type community organizations intent on stealing a national majority. It is a terrible idea. There is one plan for real Electoral College reform that would accurately reflect how the vote is actually cast in every state and guarantee that the outcome of the popular vote and the electoral vote are the same. Lets call it the Stone Plan. Under my electoral reform proposal, each state is first apportioned two votes, one for each Senator - the Federal principle of balancing the rights of big and small states - and then one vote each for each House member, reflecting population size and majority rule. Each state's total number is divided proportionally in the tally based on percent of the votes received by each candidate. To illustrate my proposal, if you preserve the electoral vote as a counting device, in a state with ten electoral votes, eight would represent the Congressmen (that is, population) and two would represent the Senators (that is, the federal principle). If the Republicans, for example, received 30 percent of the popular vote in a presidential election, they would get three out of the state's ten electoral votes and the Democrats would get seven. Under the present system, the Democrats would get 10 - winner take all. My plan favors neither party and protects the interests of big and small states alike. It is simple and fair and protects the rights of the the minority. And history proves it is necessary. In 1948, Tom Dewey carried New York over Harry Truman - 46 to 45 percent - with lefty Henry Wallace draining "Give 'em Hell" Harry, but Dewey got all 47 Electoral College votes. Under the current system, electors who are political hacks not even bound by law to vote for the candidate the voters selected. In 1960, one elector from Virginia voted for segregationist Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. rather than vote for Nixon or Kennedy. The current system could lead to more mischief. If no candidate earns a majority in our current system, the decision is thrown to the House where each state has one vote. Again they are not bound to vote for any candidate. The wheeling, dealing and inside politics could select a President with no need for a popular election majority. The horse- trading to swing the votes within each big or small state would be fierce, and small states have the same vote as big states. The likely result - scandal and deadlock - is not possible under my plan. With all votes being apportioned and reflected, the entire popular vote will be reflected and someone will earn a majority. A Congressional scandal can be avoided. The Electoral College was actually a gathering (usually at the state capitol building and usually in January) of so-called presidential electors - persons chosen in the November election. At the Electoral College meeting, these electors are supposed to vote precisely as the people have voted but they are not legally bound to do so. On occasion, some of them cast votes contrary to their voters' choice. Several Republican electors from Alaska voted for the Libertarian candidate for President rather than Richard Nixon in 1972. My proposal would eliminate anti-voter shenanigans by rogue electors and insure the will of the people was reflected in the awarding of electoral votes The Stone Plan for a constitutional amendment to reform the electoral system exactly as I have outlined actually passed the US Senate, when sponsored by the redoubtable Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., by an amazing two-thirds vote of 64 to 23 in 1950. It failed in the US House. My proposal could garner the votes from Senators and Congressmen in small states who are likewise disadvantaged under a strict popular vote system. Under our current system, no candidate for President will travel to Vermont, Montana or Rhode Island unless it's for money. Under the Stone Plan, no state could have less than three electoral votes and even these could be apportioned. Electoral College reform as I have outlined it is fair and disadvantages no group or party in our presidential elections. The time for Electoral College reform is now.