Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rig the Vote!

You may have heard that Kenosha-native, RNC Chair, and newly bespectacled Reince Priebus has come out in support for a plan that would divvy up various (traditional Democratic) states' electoral college votes by congressional district. Republicans in the state of Pennsylvania have already introduced one such measure. There are any number of reasons why this is a dubious proposition (at best), but let's ignore all of them for a brief moment and suppose the opposite: that electoral college vote allocation by congressional district is what the people want.

There's still a fairly massive problem that must needs be addressed: when such a major change in the voting scheme should be implemented.

What I mean is this: typically, changes to laws that effect elected officials don't go live until the next change-over in government. Take the XXVII Amendment to the Constitution, for example, which rather succinctly states "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." This principle tends to guide a lot of in-house rules.

And just like congressional elections, the redistricting thereof is set on a regular schedule: immediately following the census that begins every decade. In other words, if the people of Wisconsin really want to divvy up their electoral college votes, it would appear that they would have to wait after the next redistricting to do so, or 2022 at the earliest. This is what both Maine and Nebraska did when they went to their current split formats: Maine changing from the all-in approach in 1972 and Nebraska doing so in 1992.

This would seem only fair because splitting electoral college votes by congressional district would increase the importance of the redistricting process immensely. Allowing voters the chance to offer input into the new districts would seem reasonable, if not essential, to the legitimacy of any change to the apportionment of EC votes. Changing the rules of the game so soon after the last census and redistricting process would mean two entire presidential elections in Wisconsin would pass under a cloud of illegitimacy.

But this is probably not going to happen in Wisconsin, not because the state GOP isn't looking for for any way to cling to power they can find -- they most certainly are -- but because the Governor's short term ambitions will likely interfere with the GOP long-term designs to "reform" the electoral college.

Scott Walker is running for President in 2016. We're fairly confident of this. Should he manage to become the GOP's nominee -- we're not confident about that at all -- he'll need to win Wisconsin in order to have an hope at winning the White House, especially if the Democrats are able to keep their current coalition of minority voters active (and you can bet a lame duck President Obama with little else left on his plate will be campaigning madly to do just that). Furthermore, he'll need to win all of Wisconsin's 10 electoral college votes -- not 5, not 7, but all of them -- to have any prayer at the White House. Even losing just three EC votes, which he would be sure to do under a plan to divvy up the state's EC votes by congressional district, represents a significant obstacle to winning the presidency for Walker.

Take, for example, the follow hypothetical scenario: Imagine that the states of Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin will all allocate their electoral college votes by congressional district in 2016. Since there's probably not going to be much change in the geography of the electorate between last November and 2016, we already know a lot about how a 2016 election would play itself out. Had 2012 been swing state congressional district electoral college vote free-for-all, Mitt Romney would have still lost 271-267, according to my admittedly very quick count. It should be clear just how important those extra three EC votes become under circumstances that can only be considered improbable, but presumably favorable to the GOP, for 2016: they literally mean the difference between a 4-point loss and a 2-point victory. Possible 2016 GOP Presidential nominee Scott Walker would be giving away the White House because he gave away three of his home state's electoral college votes. *

Now, there are undoubtedly a million scenario's wherein Walker's quick sacrifice of a trio of lowly pawns allows him to yell "Mate!" at the end of the game, but each of those hypotheticals ignore ignore a giant looming cloud that would hoover over the chess board ominously, and that's this: retreating to a congressional district EC vote strategy would be another phase in the GOP's march to irrelevance. It would represent a retrenchment to a bunker made up of aging, rural, white male voters at a time when it should be transforming itself for the future to compete with the Democrats multicultural coalition. Catering its messages and policies toward only those areas of the countries where it has a decent chance of winning isn't growing the party, it's shrinking it; and while it may help make Presidential races more competitive in the short term, the long-term consequences can only be considered catastrophic for the GOP.

* To be fair, and even under the very far-fetched fantasy described above, that's assuming the most competitive districts in these six states would have been treated no differently than any other district. In Wisconsin, Romney won the 7th and 8th CDs by a mere 3 and 4 points, respectively; and there were at least 15 other districts that Obama was within 5% of winning: two in Virginia (CD-4, CD-10), at least three in Pennsylvania (CD-3, CD-8, CD-15), at least three in Ohio (CD-10, CD-14, CD-15), three in Michigan (CD-6, CD-7, CD-8), and two in Florida (CD-7 and CD-25). Each of those districts would have been given even more special attention they likely already received during the actual 2012 campaign because they each represent opportunities for any GOP nominee to lose ground to a Democratic rival, but that's a topic for a future post.


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