The GOP's bold and brash plan to rig the 2016 presidential election seems to be collapsing under its own weight, at least for now. But that doesn't mean they've stopped trying to game the system.
Unable to convince the majority of Americans to vote for their candidate last year, Republican leaders decided to try to rig the next election in their own favor, rearranging the way key states apportion their electoral votes to all but guaranteeing that the GOP candidate would win the presidency, no matter how badly he or she might lose the popular vote. Bills to rig the electoral votes have been considered in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan and one made it past a Senate subcommittee in Virginia. The plan wasn't exactly subtle. Faced with mounting public criticism, governors and legislative leaders in Florida, Ohio and Michigan backed off, realizing, perhaps, that they would lose more politically than they would gain under the plan, and Virginia's bill was defeated.
But it's hardly over. The latest electoral vote gambit was only the most outrageous manifestation of what Republicans have been trying to do for years. In the last two years, Tea Party-controlled state legislatures have implemented, or tried to implement, restrictions on voting aimed squarely at groups that are more likely to vote for Democrats. From Florida's attempts to shut down voter registration drives and severely limit early voting to Maine's attempt to disenfranchise college students to a voter ID bill that would have made it harder for the nine percent of Pennsylvanians without a proper ID to vote, Republicans have taken aim at voting rights in order to game the system.
Many of these suppressive laws were blocked, at least temporarily, by courts. Some were challenged under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal preclearance for voting rights changes in areas with a history of disenfranchising minority voters. This spring, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of Section 5. If the court strikes down the law, there will be no stopping these attempts at disenfranchising voters anywhere in the country that is under Republican control.
And even the electoral vote scheme still has life in it. Pennsylvania's Gov. Tom Corbett supported a similar plan two years ago, and leaders in other states have been all too willing to consider it.
There is more than one way to rig an election. As it continues to lose elections based on its policies and ideas, we can expect the GOP to try all of them. As with the electoral vote plan, the only thing that will stop them is vigilance by those who care about our democracy. Last year, their blatant efforts to change voting laws to keep students, minorities and low-income people from voting backfired in a major way, as those who saw their right to vote threatened took extra care to exercise it. These Republican politicians put winning over democracy, but most American voters will not stand for it. The GOP will have to learn that if they can't win elections the honest way, they aren't going to win at all.