The US electoral college system is based on winner take all delegate allocation in all but two states. If you get just one more vote than the other candidate you get all the electoral votes. One way to change the system is go to proportional allocation. That would still give some advantage to the overall winner. But not much. The key to the Republican plan is to do this but only in Democratic leaning swing states — not in any of the states where Republicans win. That means you take away all the advantage Dems win by winning states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and so forth.
But the Republican plan goes a step further.
Rather than going by the overall vote in a state, they’d allocate by congressional district. And this is where it gets real good, or bad, depending on your point of view. Democrats are now increasingly concentrated in urban areas and Republicans did an extremely successful round of gerrymandering in 2010, enough to enable them to hold on to a substantial House majority even though they got fewer votes in House races than Democrats.
In other words, the new plan is to make the electoral college as wired for Republicans as the House currently is. But only in Dem leaning states. In Republican states just keep it winner take all. So Dems get no electoral votes at all.
Another way of looking at this is that the new system makes the votes of whites count for much more than non-whites — which is a helpful thing if you’re overwhelmingly dependent on white votes in a country that is increasingly non-white.
This all sounds pretty crazy. But it gets even crazier when you see the actual numbers. Here’s a very illustrative example. They’re already pushing a bill to do this in the Virginia legislature. Remember, Barack Obama won Virginia and got 13 electoral votes. But as Benjy Sarlin reported today in a series of posts, if the plan now being worked on would have been in place last November, Mitt Romney would have lost the state but still got 9 electoral votes to Obama’s 4. Think of that, two-thirds of the electoral votes for losing the state. If the Virginia plan had been in place across the country, as Republicans are now planning to do, Mitt Romney would have been elected president even though he lost by more than 5 million votes.Follow-up . . . But this is also happening now . . .
Remember, plans to do this are already underway in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states in the Midwest.
What’s going to stop these changes to the electoral system is not law, but politics. Republicans have a lot to lose by going down this road, which is why Florida’s legislative leaders have already balked at it. It’s also why you don’t see Republican legislatures simply reallocating Electoral College votes to themselves. First, it is wrong to assume, as the right’s National Review and the left’s Think Progress have, that Mitt Romney would have won had this rule been in place. As Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go into a campaign with the Electoral College rules you have, not the rules you wish them to be. The Obama and Romney campaigns would have campaigned very differently in these states if they were under a district system, targeting not voters across the state, but voters in the key districts needed to win the election. Yes, Republican gerrymandering of districts would have given the GOP some advantage, but it is far from clear it would have been enough to defeat the Obama campaign machine. Think about it: The last thing Republican legislators want is national Democratic campaigns scrounging for every vote in conservative-leaning districts. Fewer Republicans will win legislative and Congressional seats because Republican districts will become more competitive by design. Why would Republican legislators vote for a plan that will make it harder for them to keep their jobs?