Rig the Vote

  • 02/08/2013
  • Terelle Jerricks

Republicans Contemplate Vote-Counting Schemes that would have Elected Romney

By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

Because of the electoral college, only a handful of states really matter in electing a president every four years.  For almost 40 years, Virginia was not one of them, as Republicans carried the state in every election from 1968 to 2004, rarely ever breaking a sweat. But that all changed in 2008, when Virginia not only became a battleground state, with candidates fighting tooth and nail for every vote, but actually ended up going for the Democrat, Barack Obama, for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson’s 44-state landslide win over Barry Goldwater. Then in 2012, Obama won the state again.

Some Virginians weren’t happy to see their state go to the Democrat, which is understandable. The reasoning offered is less so.

“The last election, [my] constituents were concerned that it didn’t matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them,” Virginia Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr., R-Grayson County, told the Washington Post, arguing that he wanted to give smaller communities a bigger voice. “This is coming to me from not just my Republican constituents,” he added, as the Post noted that his district “voted overwhelmingly for Republican Mitt Romney” in the last election. “I want to be a voice for a region that feels they have no reason to come to the polls.”

For more than a generation, black Virginians, who make up 19 percent of the electorate, had every reason to feel the same way, but Carrico never seemed to notice, much less care about their lack of a voice. And, they never complained in quite the way that he is doing now. More importantly, they never took the next step that he did in December: introducing a bill to split up Virginia’s electoral college votes. In doing so, nine of them would have gone to Romney (one for every congressional district he carried, plus two more for winning the most districts). This, compared to four for Obama—a better than 2-to-1 Romney advantage, even though Obama won a majority of the popular vote in the state.

But Republicans have lost the national popular vote in every election since 1992, except one, and the solid Red states like Virginia and North Carolina are turning into battlegrounds. They’re getting desperate and cheating is starting to look mighty good.

Indeed, Carrico isn’t just some isolated nut. And other Republicans do a much better sales job than he. “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in early January, adding the claim that it “gives more local control” to the states.

But it’s only a select handful of states where Priebus and other Republicans seem to think it’s vitally important.

GOP Targets Six Blue States In Red Hands

Similar schemes have been put forward in five other states that Obama won, but which are completely controlled by Republicans at the state level.If all of them had had Carrico’s plan in place in the last election, Romney would be sitting in the White House right now, even though he lost the popular vote by almost 5 million votes.

In December, the National Journal reported that “senior Republicans in Washington” were “overseeing legislation” to implement district-based systems in the three bluest of these states,Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. And “in the long run,” they were eyeing Florida, Ohio, and Virginia as well.

“You’d see a massive shift of electoral votes in states that are blue and fully [in] red control,” one anonymous senior Republican, described as “taking an active role in pushing the proposal” told the Journal. “There’s no kind of autopsy and outreach that can grab us those electoral votes that quickly,” he added.

Of course, the popular vote loser has won the electoral college vote before—most recently in 2000. But under the existing system, these are rare flukes. The GOP’s new plans would turn a bug into a feature.

“This is not a relatively small Electoral College ‘misfire’ on the order of 1888 or 2000,” wrote Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia Center for Politics, the center’s “Crystal Ball” election prediction and analysis website.

“Instead, it is a corrupt and cynical maneuver to frustrate popular will and put a heavy thumb the whole hand, in fact—on the scale for future Republican candidates. We do not play presidential politics with a golf handicap awarded to the
weaker side.”

Sabato’s harsh response was typical of the reaction these plans have met as the national media has belatedly noticed what Republicans are up to in these states. As a result, most of the proponents have beaten a hasty retreat. Carrico’s bill suffered a lopsided 11-4 ‘no’ vote in a key committee on Jan. 29, for example, while other state’s GOP leaders have signaled no desire to even go that far.

But the GOP is in dire straits so far as presidential politics are concerned, so there’s a very real chance that these schemes could reappear much closer to the 2016 election, when non-partisan voices like Sabato’s are drowned out by the daily campaign din, and Democrats have no time to organize an effective counter-move. We could, in short, be headed for a deliberately pre-planned stolen election—not just in one state, as happened in Florida in 2000, but from a coordinated national effort.

What makes Carrico’s scheme possible are two things: First, the Electoral College system itself allows states to allocate their votes in any way they see fit. There isn’t even a requirement that citizens be allowed to vote at all. State legislatures could simply select them directly—at least as far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned.

In fact, two states—Maine and Nebraska—already use a variant of Carrico’s scheme, assigning one electoral vote per district plus two for the overall winner of the popular vote. But unlike the large, diverse states recently contemplating the change, those homogeneous small-population states barely register any effect at all. Maine has
used the system since 1972 and Nebraska since 1992, but only one electoral vote has ever been cast for a candidate who didn’t win the statewide vote.

The second thing that makes Carrico’s scheme possible is the preexistence of extreme gerrymandering in the states involved. As Random Lengths reported immediately after the election, Obama carried the six states mentioned and narrowly lost North Carolina with an average margin of around three percent, while Republicans won the House seats from these states in a landslide, 73-34, better than 2-1 Republican. Had these states had split their delegations 54-53, roughly in line with how their people voted, Democrats would have gained enough seats to retake control of the House.

While there’s academic literature arguing that districting itself is to blame, simply because Democrats are more densely packed into urban areas, there are at least three things that argue against this view. First is the just-noted fact that only seven states account for virtually all the partisan imbalance. Second, there’s the dramatic shift in partisan imbalance that’s taken place so rapidly in this handful of states.

Pennsylvania, for example, saw Republicans gain a maximum edge of 11-10 in the 1990s, 12-7 in the 2000s and 13-5 in the most recent election, despite Democratic House candidates winning 83,000 more votes statewide. Democrats challenged the 2002 redistricting all the way to the Supreme Court—unsuccessfully, thus paving the way for the even more lopsided districts today.

Similarly, North Carolina went from 7-6 Democrat in 2010, to 9-4 GOP in 2012, despite Democrats doing 7 points better statewide in 2012. Third, Republicans have openly bragged about their prowess in gerrymandering.

REDMAP—The GOP’s $30 Million Gerrymandering Scheme

The day after the 113th Congress was sworn in, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) posted a summary report of its “REDMAP” strategy, a “review of its strategy and execution of its efforts in the 2010 election cycle to
erect a Republican firewall through the redistricting process that paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.”

The report explained that even before the 2010 Census, the RSLC was planning a strategy to focus on winning control of states expected to lose or gain seats in Congress—states where new district maps could be most radically redrawn. “Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn,” the report said, which in turn “presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policy-making at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.”

For the effort, the RSLC raised $30 million. The results were impressive, the report noted:“After Election Day 2010, Republicans held majorities in both legislative chambers in 25 states– and, in most cases, control of redistricting – up from 14.”

A comparison chart showed that Republicans controlled the districting of 193 seats compared to just 44 under Democratic control, with 191 under split control, or a non-partisan commission. This was roughly double the 98 seats under Re-
publican redistricting control in 2001, comparedto 135 seats under Democratic control that year. With the sort of attention, focus and big money spending already devoted to fixing elections in the House, it’s hardly surprising that Republicans would take the next step, and try to use this unfair advantage in presidential elections as well. Their initial efforts appear to have been shelved, due to bad publicity, but they can easily be taken off the shelf at a moment’s notice.

Virginia’s Senate showed just how easily on Jan. 21, when Republicans took advantage of the fact that state Sen. Henry Marsh, a 79-year old long-time civil rights lawyer and activist, went to Washington to attend Obama’s inauguration.
With Marsh absent, the Republicans temporarily enjoyed a 20-19 majority, which they used to rush through a reapportionment of their own districts, drawing a map that makes a 27-13 GOP super-majority a distinct possibility. The redistricting process normally takes months and happens only once a decade, after the census. This took only hours, and came out of the blue. If Republicans do renew their efforts, we should expect a lot slicker sales pitch than Carrico managed.

Michigan State Representative Pete Lund, who first introduced a district-based bill there in 2011, shows how this might be done. “It’s more representative of the people,” Lund said in a story reported by Mlive.com last month.

“A person doesn’t win a state by 100 percent of the vote, so this is a better, more accurate way…People would feel voting actually matters. It’s an idea I’ve had for several years.”

Of course, some folks might dispute the claim that giving the loser twice as many votes as the winner is “a better, more accurate way.” But as long as Republicans are the only ones playing this game, they can pick their spots, move
quickly, frame the debate well enough to keep opponents disorganized and off-balance for the brief time it takes, and thus steal our democracy. There is another way, of course. Democrats could fight back by mounting a high-profile push
for a truly fair system—one that would equalize all the votes of all Americans by tying the Electoral College to the national popular vote. This plan, known as the national popular vote, has already been relatively quietly approved by
states casting 132 electoral votes—close to half the total needed, including California.

Once the threshold of 270 votes is reached, all the states who have approved this proposal will cast all winner. All states approving it so far have been Blue states, but it has received bipartisan support, which illustrates the power of the concept once people hear about it. With such a system in place—or at least prominently advanced so that no one could ignore it—GOP appeals of the sort Lund has crafted would readily be seen as the cheap knock-offs they are.

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