Monday, October 1, 2012

Gaming the Electoral College: How Republicans could win regardless using the District Method

by Clifford F. Thies

As in practically all Presidential elections nowadays, the total focus of both major parties is on the battleground states. While the list of battleground states changes a bit from one election to another, aside from occasional forays into some of the marginal states, the rest of the country is essentially ignored.

Following the quirky result of 2000, in which Al Gore won the nationwide popular vote but George W. Bush won in the Electoral College (and was therefore elected Presidents), Democrats have tended to favor abolishing the Electoral College and relying only on the popular vote. Republicans have resisted this effort in part because they perceive that they enjoy a tilt in the Electoral College, but also because they are increasingly suspicious of the votes tallied in Democratic precincts.

A long time ago, Roger Lea MacBride, best known for his work in continuing "The Little House" saga, and a long-time friend of the principals of this website, proposed an approach that would balance concerns both for maintaining the federal structure of our country in the election of the President, and damping down the quirkiness of the Electoral College: namely, the District Method.

In the District Method, Electors are elected one to the winner of the vote in each Congressional District, and two to the winner of the statewide vote, in the states using this method. The states of Maine and Nebraska currently employ this method. And, in 2008, Barack Obama actually won one Elector from Nebraska because of the state's use of this method.

If the District Method were used by all the states, the Presidential campaigns would not focus on states and would be probably attempt to both campaign nationwide and to use micro-marketing techniques to focus on the competitive Congressional Districts across the country. States could attract campaign resources by drawing more competitive districts, instead of gerrymandering their districts. The outcome of the Presidential election would be relatively immune to the abilities of either party to manipulate the vote in precincts that they overwhelmingly dominate.

But, there is perhaps a more immediate reason to consider adoption of the District Method. Currently, the Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and have the Governor in certain states that are inclined to vote Democratic (viz., Michigan and Pennsylvania). While the Republican candidates are likely to win these states in landslide elections, in close elections, the Democrat is likely to win them. But the Republicans in state government in these places could neutralize the states in Presidential elections, actually move their net vote in the Electoral College to the Republican candidate, by shifting to the District Method.

Indeed, the Republicans could steal this year's election by, right now, shifting the following five states to the District Method: FL, MI, OH, PA and VA. All of these states are either toss-up or leans to Obama; and, all of the governments of all these states states are totally controlled by the Republicans. (In Virginia, the Democrats and Republicans have an exact tie in the State Senate, and the Republican Lt. Governor casts the deciding vote.)

By winning the states in which he is currently ahead, and the Republicans Congressional Districts in the five states, and no other Electoral Votes, Mitt Romney would amass 269 Electoral Votes, an exact tie, and would be elected President by the U.S. House of Representatives. Romney could lose the nationwide popular vote by as many as 5 points and still be elected President. (The election of the Vice President would be determined in the U.S. Senate, control of which is currently uncertain.)

If Romney were to lose the nationwide popular vote by no more than 3 points, Romney would probably win additional Electoral College votes by winning some of the statewide votes in the five states, and/or by winning some of the other toss-up states (CO, IA, NH, NV and WI); and, so, he and Paul Ryan would win the election in the Electoral College.

Furthermore, the Democrats could not retaliate. There are only two states in which they control the state government (AR and WV), and Romney would win all the Electoral Votes of those states even if they shifted to the District Method.

Even if it is too late for the Republicans to capitalize on this idea for this year's election, they should give serious consideration for moving at least Michigan and Pennsylvania to the District Method well before next year's election. This would give the Republicans such an enormous advantage in the Electoral College, the Democrats might be inclined to joining with the Republicans to propose a Constitutional Amendment to the states to have all Electors awarded this way.

1 comment:

toto said...

Dividing more states’ electoral votes by congressional district winners would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system.

If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country's congressional districts.

The district approach would not provide incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates' attention to issues of concern to the state. With the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all laws (whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts (the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race has been competitive in only 3 of the state's 53 districts. Nationwide, there have been only 55 "battleground" districts that were competitive in presidential elections. With the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, 2/3rds of the states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, 88% of the nation's congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

A national popular vote is the way to make every person's vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.