In November, the Republicans used gerrymandering to win the U.S. House of Representatives. Now they want to use it to win the presidency in 2016.
By artfully redrawing district maps, the Republicans were able to win a majority of the House seats in 2012 -- despite the fact that Democratic House candidates garnered 1.3 million more votes than GOP candidates nationwide.
Now the Republicans want to duplicate that political heist -- except this time their target is the presidency. Last week Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed a scheme to allocate electoral votes by U.S. House districts, instead of state-wide. They want to rig the Electoral College so that a GOP candidate can win even if he or she loses the popular vote.
Right now, 48 of the 50 states allocate their electoral votes in a state-wide, winner-take-all manner. The candidate that wins the state gets all of its electoral votes. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, use what is called the Congressional District Method, where the state's electoral votes are divided up among the state's U.S. House districts. The candidate who wins a district gets one of the state's electoral votes. (Two electoral votes end up going to the candidate who wins the state-wide vote.)
The Republicans want to expand the use of this district-based method to states where their party is in charge of the state government. In the last decade, the party has plowed tens of millions of dollars into state legislative contests so they can control the redistricting process and draw district lines in a way that unfairly favors their congressional candidates. The original plan was to use this gerrymandering to ensure control the U.S. House. But now they want to double down on that winning strategy and apply it to presidential contests.
There is already a potential for the Electoral College to elect the candidate who loses the popular vote. We saw that travesty with George W. Bush in 2000. This problem is made possible by the winner-take-all nature of how the votes are allocated in the states. A simple example shows how this works. In the last election, Obama won in Maryland by 1,677,844 to 971,869 -- and won that state's 10 electoral votes. Romney won in Arizona by 1,233,654 to 1,025,232 and won 11 electoral votes. So while Obama won 500,000 more votes than Romney in the two states (2,703,076 vs. 2,205,523), Romney won 11 electoral votes to Obama's 10.
We can get this kind of perverse outcome because some states are heavily Democratic or Republican, which allows the victorious candidates to win those states with a lot more votes than they need. Those votes are in essence "wasted." That is what happened to the Democrats in Maryland, where Obama won by over 700,000 votes.
The Republican plan would magnify this problem by switching electoral vote allocation to the district level. Instead of having one problematic winner-take-all contest in each state, you would have as many as there are House districts in each state. That means a potential of hundreds of such contests nationwide -- there are 435 seats in the House of Representatives. So now there would be hundreds of opportunities for votes to be wasted in lopsided victories. This increases the chances of the "wrong" candidate winning -- something that electoral systems experts have warned would be the outcome to switching to a district-based system.
And the "wrong" candidate would most likely be a Republican, because they have been very successful in redrawing congressional district lines so that large numbers of Democratic voters are crammed into districts and waste a lot of their votes. So switching to a district-based system is clearly an effort to rig the election in the GOP's favor.
We need to publicize this effort and label it for what it is -- a shameful attempt at political cheating. The Republican Party has stolen the U.S. House and now they want to steal the presidency.
In the long run, we need to get rid of the Electoral College so that there are no opportunities to rig presidential elections in this way. Or if we keep it, we need to modify it in the way proposed by the National Popular Vote Plan, which would ensure that the winner would always be the candidate who wins the popular vote.