In government, the appearance of impropriety can be as damaging as the reality, and what a terrific, tone-deaf, stupid example Republicans are giving the nation by trying to change the Electoral College system, already highly unpopular (I like it, by the way), by making it worse. The GOP is pursuing a strategy of trying to get the states where it has control of the legislature to change the way those states’ electoral votes are allocated in a Presidential election from winner-take-all (the current system in place in all but two states) to allocation by Congressional district. Such a system would have, just coincidentally I’m sure, given a narrow victory to Mitt Romney if it were in place in all the states that Mitt Romney lost (but none that he won.)
Screams from Democrats that the Republicans are trying to “fix” the election system are a bit disingenuous: an essentially identical system was installed in Maine by a Democratic legislature (as well as in Nebraska by Republicans), and no alarms were sounded then. There is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about it, for state legislatures are charged by Mr. Madison’s masterpiece with deciding how allocating electoral votes should be done. Democrats also did something similar in the wake of the baroque 2000 election result, concocting a scheme, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, to undermine the Electoral College by persuading several states to agree to direct electors to vote not for whoever wins the popular vote in the state itself, but for whoever wins the popular vote nationally. Well, waddya know! THAT method would have given Al Gore the Presidency—and what a fun ride it would have been!—from 2000-2004. This is as much an example of trying to rig the results of the previous election as what the Republicans are trying, though it is much, much fairer and ethically defensible on it merits. (Still a bad idea, though.)
Do recall, however, that it is impossible to rig the results of a previous election. To listen to some Democratic critics, you wouldn’t know that.
While the Democratic scheme, still being pushed in many states, would theoretically eliminate the chances of the popular vote winner losing the Presidency in the Electoral College, the GOP scheme would increase them. Since everyone agrees that result is undesirable, as it divides the country, cripples the winner, and confuses politically ignorant citizens and journalists, that makes the GOP scheme infinitely worse. It is Machiavellian and nothing else. At this moment, Republicans control more Congressional Districts than the Democrats do, even though more voters voted Democratic in the last two Presidential contests. Thus the proposed change would result in the party that wins a majority in the House of Representatives having a good chance of picking up a lot of extra electoral votes in states where its Presidential candidate lost. Republicans recently tried to get this system installed in purple Virginia (an Obama state that would have given most of its electoral votes to Romney if that was the rule in the last election), but were foiled by a public outcry. Stubborn and silly as ever, they apparently are going to keep trying. Here is why it’s wrong:
- It is hyper-partisan, and nothing else. There is no pretense that this is really fair, makes sense, or has been careful considered as an improvement of the system. It makes it easier, as things stand now, to put a Republican in the White House, that’s all.
- It increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood of a President being elected without winning the Popular Vote. That result is always bad for the country. Thus the plan is unpatriotic and a breach of the duty of citizenship.
- The plan undermines the integrity of the Presidential election. It is bad enough that Nebraska and Maine choose electors differently than everyone else, but under the Republican scheme, we would end up with a mish-mash of systems in the states, no consistency, no predictability, no public trust , confidence or understanding, and no integrity.
- It is probably discriminatory in effect, minimizing the voting influence of blacks and Hispanics, who are concentrated in urban districts.
- As a result, the plan is vulnerable to being called racist in intent…and if you give Democrats a chance to cry racism, they will. When enough people claim racism (the mainstream media will always join in), it undermines race relations in the U.S., whether the or not it’s justified.
- Most of all, the plan is bad because it makes democracy and the republican (small r) form of government look like a shell game, diminishing public trust, which is dangerously low already.
Otherwise, it’s just a dandy idea!
Sources: Best of the Web, Washington Post
Graphic: Thinking Right