By Ralph Schwartz
Yes, it looks that way. (If I’m going to write a question as a headline, I figured I owed you an answer.)
Slate columnist Dave Weigel has been thinking about the GOP plan to overhaul how Electoral College votes are determined for a little while now. Just today he tweeted:
“Really strange that there’s more coverage of hypothetical 2016 matchups than coverage of actual Electoral College-rigging plans”
Seven days ago, Weigel posted a column on the topic on Slate.com. He pointed out something I find interesting; if the Electoral College reform favored by the GOP had been in place for Obama-Romney, Romney would have won the College, 276-262. (As it is, Obama won 332-206.)
So what is this game-changing idea for reforming the Electoral College? Rather than having a candidate win all of a state’s electoral votes if he/she wins a majority of popular votes, the candidate will get one Electoral College vote for each congressional district he/she wins. The other two state Electoral College votes would go to the popular winner. This scheme is already in place in Nebraska and Maine.
What are the consequences? In Florida, Obama narrowly won all of that state’s 29 electoral votes. Broken out by congressional district, Romney won 18 of 27. So the Electoral College split for Florida would have been 18 for Romney, 11 for Obama (nine for the congressional districts he won, plus two for winning the state as a whole).
Beyond the numbers, what are the political consequences? It depends on whom you ask, of course.
American Thinker presents the idea as more fair — to voters and to Republican candidates who get shortchanged under the the existing winner-take-all Electoral College system:
The electoral effect would be to greatly reduce the number of people whose votes don’t count in the electoral college. … The political effect, of course, would be to very nearly guarantee that an incoming president and the House majority represent the same party.
The Democrats will argue that this reduces the value of an individual presidential vote in their most densely populated enclaves, while increasing the value of a presidential vote cast by a bitter clinger — and they’ll be politically right, because that is exactly what would happen, but morally wrong because this is actually good, not bad, for democracy.
The reason is because a fair election requires the electorate to listen to both sides and make an informed choice between them.
A University of Virginia Center for Politics column takes the opposite stance:
The congressional district plan appears reasonable at first glance. After all, why give all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins statewide no matter how narrow that candidate’s margin? Awarding electoral votes by congressional district would seem to provide a fairer and more balanced alternative to the winner-take-all system. But there is a serious problem with this approach. Despite a superficial appearance of fairness, the congressional district plan would be profoundly undemocratic — skewing the results in favor of the party drawing the congressional district lines in a state and greatly increasing the chances of an Electoral College misfire (a victory by the candidate losing the national popular vote).
This point harkens back to a blog I posted several days ago about super PACs spending money at the state level to redraw congressional boundaries.
Given shifting demographics that favor Democrats, they have a fairly easy shot under the current system to get 285 electoral votes (it takes 270 to win). With the alternative plan, the Republicans would have an equally easy path to the presidency.
How to choose? Is there a third way? Should we just let the popular vote decide our president?