By: Andrew Strauss
Well it’s over folks; Mitt Romney will be America’s 45th President. This is what would have happened had the GOP’s new voting plan for 2016 been implemented in time for 2012. The plan most states followed in 2012 is known as “winner-take-all.” In this system the winner of the overall popular vote in a state wins all the electoral votes for that state. In states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures, there has been a push to change from winner-take-all allocation to allocation by congressional district.
Instead of the winner-take-all system that most states use (except Maine and Nebraska), GOP controlled state legislatures began introducing laws in January 2013 that would instead allocate the state’s electoral votes by congressional district. Candidates would receive a vote for each congressional district they carried in the state and the winner of the overall popular vote would receive 2 electoral votes. For example, Virginia’s 13 electoral votes would be divided between the 11 congressional districts and 2 for the winner of the popular vote statewide. In 2012, President Obama would have received the 2 votes for winning the statewide vote, but would have only received votes for 3 congressional districts, whereas Mitt Romney would have won 8 congressional districts. President Obama, even though he won Virginia by 3 percent in the popular vote, would actually loose the state electorally, with Mitt Romney winning 8 votes and Obama only winning 5.
The states that have been making news in the last month in regards to these bills are Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. President Obama won all of these states in 2012, but under these new vote allocation plans, Mitt Romney would have won a majority of the electoral votes from all of these states. Though President Obama won 26 states on November 6th, but Mitt Romney won a plurality of votes in 99 congressional districts within those states. While many of these states are not considering redistricting plans, it shows how some states changing to a non-winner-take-all system would drastically alter the electoral map. If every state operated in a non-winner-take-all system, Mitt Romney would have won the 2012 election with 273 electoral votes.
The system non-winner-take-all system also relies on the gerrymandering of congressional districts. In the process that occurs when congressional seats are redrawn, usually after each census, gerrymandering occurs when parties draw new congressional district boundaries based on party identification. It allows the party in power to draw districts that will likely lead to so called “safe seats” in the next election cycles for that party. In 2012, the GOP maintained its control of the House of Representatives, winning 234 seats, while the Democrats only won 201 seats. The Democrats, however, actually had over one million more votes nationally. The Democrats won the popular nation-wide vote by 1%. This statistic provides insight into what this new GOP electoral plan can actually accomplish. The party has already gerrymandered the districts to provide for more Republican districts than Democratic ones. The plan, however, has come under fire from prominent GOP figures.
The governors of the states who are planning to implement the new voting systems have come under fire from Democrats, and even some Republicans. In February 2013 Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell received a petition with nearly 14,000 signatures expressing outrage at the plan. On January 29, 2013, the Virginia State Senate effectively killed the plan in committee after a bi-partisan vote. The GOP and Democrats found common ground, arguing that in order for Virginia to be a competitive state in elections, the winner-take-all system must remain.
Similar outrage was expressed in Wisconsin after its state legislature began debating the switch. Additionally, Paul Ryan used similar arguments to the Virginia GOP when he said that having a winner-take-all system made Wisconsin a competitive state. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker echoed Mr. Ryan, explaining that being a competitive state allowed Wisconsinites to hear the candidates and get a better idea of who to support. Walker argued that if the state legislature changed the way the state allocates its votes, the state would no longer be targeted by both parties, resulting in a lack of attention from candidates.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder expressed skepticism about the legislature’s plan. Unlike his colleagues in Wisconsin and Virginia, Governor Snyder cited the unfairness of the system as the reason for his distaste. Snyder said that a switch to this plan would make the system less about the voice of the people collectively and more about making the system inherently unfair.
It is safe to say that the GOP’s plan to “rig the system” will not be implemented in 2016. The voting plan was ambitious, but it is probably in the best interest of average Americans, regardless of party affiliation, that it was not implemented. Elections need to be fair, and everyone needs to have a fair chance to have their voice heard. While a voter in Ohio may receive more attention than a voter in New York or Texas, the system as it stands is still arguably fair. However, had the GOP succeeded in implementing their plan, our electoral system would have become a “rigged system.” Politicians would have been able to campaign in highly partisan districts, and totally ignore others. Further, the idea that a politician could win a state popularly but lose it electorally is one that does not sit well in the American voter’s mind.
We are a nation of democratic winner-take-all and majority rule tenants. The winner of the Presidency should be the person the majority of Americans voted for. While the Electoral College is far from perfect, it offers us the best chance to have our individual voices heard. Some may argue that the Electoral College is rigged because it negates the idea that America is a direct democracy by not allowing the American people to directly elect the President, but it is a far cry from the rigging that would have occurred had the GOP’s plan been implemented.