Virginia’s governor has come out against a partisan effort to reallocate electoral college votes by Congressional district, but the plan is far from dead in other states, with governors in Wisconsin and Michigan voicing support for similar measures. The split between Virginia and other states on this issue may not be explained entirely by cooler heads prevailing — it might be part of a political calculation about how best to elect a Republican president in 2016.
Govs. Walker, Snyder Support Partisan Reallocation of Electoral Votes
In an interview with NewsMax over the weekend, Wisconsin Governor Walker expressed support for a plan to end the longstanding practice of awarding a state’s presidential elector votes to the winner of the statewide vote, and replacing it with a plan to allocate electors according to the victor in each Congressional district (a sentiment he also had expressed in December). Such a change would significantly benefit the GOP’s presidential chances, largely because Republicans were in a position to redraw Congressional maps to favor their party during the last redistricting process.
(Update: Some have suggested Walker is “tempering” or has “backed-off” his support for rigging the electoral college, based on an article published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Jan 28. But the suggestion he changed his mind over the weekend is incorrect. Walker’s interviews with NewsMax and the Journal-Sentinel both happened within ten minutes of one another, on the same day, according to Journal-Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert; the difference is that his statements to the former were published immediately, and the latter published two days later. In both interviews Walker expresses qualified support for the plan.)
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder also said he’s “open minded” to a similar plan, and legislators plan to introduce a bill this session, with the support of the House Speaker. Pennsylvania’s Senate Majority Leader has said he plans to introduce legislation this term.
These changes to electoral vote allocations are only being discussed in states that went for President Obama in the last two election cycles but are currently controlled by Republicans on the state level, such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has said explicitly that changing the allocation of electoral votes is only intended for “states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red.”
If the proposed changes for these four states had been in place during the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would have received 35 electoral votes and Obama just 23, despite Obama winning the popular vote in each state. By changing the allocation of electoral votes in this way, Republican legislators and governors would effectively thwart the political will of a majority of their constituents.
Yes Virginia, Vote Rigging is Real
In Virginia, opposition from Gov. McDonnell and a few GOP defectors means such a plan is likely dead in that state. Florida’s House Speaker has also come out against a vote rigging proposal.
But similar plans are advancing in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
How are these three states different than Virginia and Florida? They have more consistently supported Democratic presidential candidates, making it less likely that changing electoral vote allocations will backfire on Republicans.
A majority of residents in both Virginia and Florida voted for Republican presidential candidates as recently as 2004 (and had mostly done so for decades before that). In contrast, Wisconsin has not supported a GOP presidential candidate since 1984, Michigan since 1988, and Pennsylvania since 1988.
Republicans in Virginia and Florida might recognize that their states could easily go for a GOP presidential candidate in 2016, and don’t want to put themselves in the situation of ceding any electoral votes to a second-place Democrat (whereas Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might not be so confident). Indeed, GOP legislators in Michigan held a similar sentiment prior to the 2012 election:because they thought Romney would win the state, they rejected a plan to allocate electoral votes by Congressional district because they did not want to give votes to Obama.
These electoral vote-rigging proposals come after a 2011-2012 term where Republicans proposed restrictive voter ID and registration requirements to suppress Democratic turnout, legislation which can be traced back to “model” bills from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has also lobbied against efforts to implement a national popular vote to replace the electoral college system which, of course, is currently being rigged for partisan gain.
Many of the voter ID laws have been blocked in court, but a change to electoral vote allocations may not be as susceptible to legal challenge. So the question is, will citizens allow their elected leaders to get away with these cynically partisan vote-rigging schemes?