Feature

Electoral College: How to steal an election

Some swing states with Republican legislatures are considering changes to their winner-take-all electoral systems.

“If you can’t win by playing fair, cheat,” said Charles M. Blow in The New York Times. Apparently, that’s the new Republican strategy for winning presidential elections. Last week, Virginia’s state Senate snuck through a bill to replace the state’s winner-take-all electoral vote system with one awarding electors by congressional district. The change would give greater voting power to rural areas, which favor the GOP, and less to populous urban areas, which support Democrats. Under this system, Mitt Romney would have gotten nine of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes, despite losing the state to Obama by 150,000 votes. Thanks to a public outcry, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell says he won’t sign such a bill, said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com. But five other important swing states with Republican legislatures—Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—are also considering changing their electoral systems the same way. Had all six done so before November, Romney would be president, despite losing to Obama by 5 million votes. “This is just vote-rigging. Open cheating.”

“Let’s be objective,” said Robert McCartney in The Washington Post. Both Democrats and Republicans manipulate the electoral process whenever they are in the position to do it. Maryland Democrats squeezed a five-term Republican congressman out of office just last year in a “grotesque” bit of redistricting. In fact, the Virginia bill came about “partly from simple retaliation” against gerrymandering carried out by state Democrats in 2011. Defenders of the GOP proposal say it levels the playing field for rural America, said Molly Ball in TheAtlantic.com. “Rural and urban America increasingly have different goals,” says Republican strategist Jordan Gehrke. “People in Michigan say, ‘Wait a minute, why should Detroit always get to pick our candidates?’”

This is nonetheless “a bad idea,” said James Taranto in WSJ.com. If GOP-controlled states change Electoral College rules for partisan ends, Democrats will do the same where they are in control. Soon, rules will differ from state to state, and “the whole system will start looking rigged.” Here’s an alternative idea for Republicans, said David Weigel in Slate.com. Treat urban votes “like they’re worth winning.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder have won elections in “blue” states by treating cities and suburban moderates with respect. Try it. It’s more honorable than cheating. 

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