Tuesday, December 18, 2012Look, if attempting to suppress the vote of minorities or deregulating campaign finance wasn't enough to convince somebody, probably nothing will, but the plan to gerrymander the electoral college in favor of the Republicans is one of the most loathsome proposals I can imagine.
In 4 states - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia - the Republicans control all both the state legislature and the governor's mansion. These are also states carried by Democrats in the last election (and for all but the latter, in every presidential election for the last twenty years). In those states, AND THOSE STATES ONLY, the Republican-controlled state governments are considering proposals to alter their method of allocating electoral college votes. Two different methods have been proposed: the terrible awful no-good Maine-Nebraska system, and the theoretically fine if every state were doing it proportional system.
The Maine-Nebraska plan (cause those states use it now) would give a presidential candidate one electoral college vote for each congressional district in the state that they won, and an additional two votes for winning the popular vote for the entire state. To the uninitiated this seems more fair than the present winner-take-all system, in which a candidate can get 50% of the vote in the state but receives 100% of the electoral college votes. This system is a non-starter though, because of the gerrymandering of congressional districts. In many states there is a pretty outrageous skew for the Republicans, in part because Democratic voters tend to be clustered in cities, but more importantly because district lines have been drawn to pack as many Democratic voters into as few a districts as possible. In some states Democratic candidates would have win the statewide popular vote and actually receive FEWER electoral college votes than the Republican. If this plan had been in existence in 1976, Jimmy Carter - who won the national popular vote by 2%, would have lost the electoral college to Gerald Ford. Not that this would have bothered Republicans any more than Bush receiving fewer votes that Gore and still becoming President did, but that's another story. So Maine-Nebraska plan: BAD BAD BAD.
The second plan is reasonable enough in principle: if a candidate gets 55% of the state's popular vote, he/she gets roughly 55% of the state's electoral college vote. Bang, no more winner-take-all feature in the electoral college. That's fair right? Well, sort of. While I've seriously considered this idea before, my chief reservation is that it still leaves the electoral college biased towards one of the parties. Right now smaller rural states get more votes than their population warrants, because the number of electoral college votes is based on the number of House and Senate seats the state has. Since every state gets 2 Senators, there's a systematic bias in which votes in small states are worth more than votes in large ones, which violates the principle of political equality. Now in principle I'd be willing to give this plan a try, but only if every state did it.
Which brings us to what's so fiendish about what Republicans are doing. Rather than pushing for a constitutional amendment, or a conditional proposal that would take effect only if every other state did it (like the National Popular Vote people are doing), the Republicans are only trying to put it into place in states where is screws Democratic candidates. They WANT there to be a system in which Democratic candidates are systematically disadvantaged, and that would INCREASE the chances that a Republican could win the presidency while losing the national vote, or that a Republican could carry more electoral college votes in a state even though the Democrat received more votes.
This is unprincipled political gamesmanship of the worst kind, but it reveals something pretty damning about the modern Republican party. A lot of them are concerned that demographic trends are going to make it very difficult in the future for conservative Republican candidates to win national elections. Rather than modify their positions so they can appeal to more people - as every other party has done in similar situations in the history of the country (except for post-civil war southerners, cough cough), they attempt to reduce the political weight that constituencies that don't support them. They are willing to say "you, over there, your influence in the political system, your chance to be represented in government, should be less than mine."
This isn't just an attack on the Democratic Party. This is an attack on democracy itself. The key political principle of the republic is one that every person's vote should count be counted equally, that no person because of their race, income, gender, or whatever should ever be reduced to a 2nd-class citizen - because that is precisely what you're doing when you attempt to stop a while class of people from voting.
What they're doing is repugnant, but it's not really a surprise. Reducing the political weight of minorities is now a basic conservative strategy. Conservatives tried to make it more difficult for minorities to vote in the 2008 election, and conservatives cheered when a conservative Supreme Court decided that those with more money should have greater access to political speech (in the Citizens United decision). If the vote of blacks and latino is reduced to say, 3/5 of that of a white person, or blocked entirely - well there's plenty of precedent for that for a conservative, white nationalist, southern-based political party, isn't there?