Monday, July 30, 2007No this isn't an attack on the DLC, or a criticism of Democrats waging negative primary campaigns against each other. No this is in response to North Carolina's effort to alter the way it allocates Electoral College votes for the 2008 Presidential election (via Jerome Armstrong).
So here's the story. The Democratic Governor and Democratic State Legislature in North Carolina are planning to move to the Maine-Nebraska system of allocating electors. Usually electoral college votes are apportioned on a winner-take-all basis, which has a lot of bad consequences I won't get into here. In the Maine-Nebraska system, also called the Congressional District system, the winner of each congressional district receives 1 electoral college vote, while the overall state winner receives a bonus of two. The idea is that states that are lopsidedly for one party or the other would not be ignored in presidential elections anymore. The specifically partisan calculation of North Carolina Democrats, while it is unlikely a Democrat will win North Carolina, under this scheme the Democratic nominee in 2008 would be able to win an extra couple of electoral college votes in the blue-tinged tarheel districts. If this plan had been in effect in 2000, Al Gore would have won.
So it sounds like a great idea, right? Right? Well, wrong. Why? Gerrymandered congressional districts. In part because of contemptible Republican districting plans, in part because of the requirement for majority-minority districts, and in part because of the concentration of Democratic voters in urban areas, the Democrats have a built-in disadvantage in the House. In other words, there are a bunch of 65% Democratic seats and a bunch more 55% Republican ones.
But why does this matter? We're only talking about North Carolina! If you think the Republicans won't respond in kind I suppose. But what if there were a large swing state with a Republican Governor and Republican with heavily pro-Republican gerrymanders? What would happen if they adopted the same plan, with the result that Democrat could win a plurality in the state but still lose the electoral college vote 2-1. Hmm. Is there such a state. Let me think. Oh yeah.
The only problem with the Maine-Nebraska plan is that it's EVEN WORSE THAN THE CURRENT SYSTEM. The electoral college is problematic because it over-represents small states and can result in the candidate with the most popular votes losing the election (like in 2000). The Congressional District plan wouldn't just do nothing to solve either of these problems, it would be the latter one worse. If it had been in place in 1976, Ford would have won even though he lost to Carter in the national popular vote by 2 percentage points.
You want to reform the Electoral College? Fine. Just don't be an idiot about it.