Gerrymandering the presidency

On Friday, National Review columnist Jim Geraghty wasted no time pivoting away from the 2014 elections, arguing that blue states with now-Republican state legislatures should vote to allocate their electoral votes by House district to ensure a GOP win in 2016:

Starting in January, Republicans will hold state legislative majorities and the governor’s mansions in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, and Nevada.

If some or all of those states passed laws allocating their electoral votes by districts, all of these purple-to-blue states would allocate their electoral votes in a way that would make it extremely likely for Republicans to win at least half of them.

And without half the electoral votes in those states, it would nearly impossible for the Democratic nominee to win.

Geraghty’s proposal reprises similar proposals made following previous Republican takeovers of states President Obama won in 2008 and 2012. Since the states as a whole are blue but, due in no small part to Republican gerrymandering, a majority of the congressional districts are red, moving from statewide to district-by-district allocation of electoral votes would give the GOP a significant advantage in capturing the White House.

You have to give Geraghty credit for intellectual honesty. Rather than pretending to make the case that such a move would be based in any sort of principle, or that it would lead to a fairer representation of the citizens of those states’ preferences, Geraghty’s article is up front about being nothing more than craven political strategy. At no point does he say that the proposal is actually a good idea from a small-d democratic point of view. It’s just good big-R Republican gamesmanship.

This sort of honesty is oddly refreshing. Previous arguments for this sort of electoral vote allocation had paid lip service to the idea that it wasn’t about politics. Instead, it was about “giving smaller communities a bigger voice,” which forced us to play along and ask the next two obvious questions. First, if unrepresentativeunconstitutional congressional maps are the fairest way to allocate electoral votes, then why bother having Presidential elections at all? We could just let the House of Representatives select our commanders-in-chief. Second, and more seriously, if state-level winner-take-all elections are unfair to the citizens who vote for the candidate who loses their state, why not get rid of the Electoral College entirely and select the President by national popular vote?

We don’t have to hold our breath for answers to those questions, because Geraghty’s argument makes them irrelevant. Now, all that’s relevant is the fact that unabashed election rigging has become a pillar of American intellectual conservatism.

Geraghty and his colleagues have even stopped claiming that democracy is good in and of itself. This past September, NRO’s Kevin Williamson wrote with a straight face that “Voting is the most shallow gesture of citizenship there is,” going on to argue that if you don’t plan on voting for the people and policies he is then you shouldn’t bother to vote at all. This from a columnist who has previously advocated for effectively ending absentee voting, raising the voting age to 35 and reinstating property requirements for ballot access.

And let’s not forget George Will’s classic: “Regarding voting, more often means worse.”

These sorts of overtly partisan arguments against certain people and types of voting lend themselves to a far more serious debate than the comically facetious arguments conservatives have previously made about ensuring the integrity of the democratic process. With arguments like Geraghty’s and Williamson’s, the patriots of the conservative movement are inviting a debate over whether or not their desired slate of anti-scientific, theocraticracist, corporatist, patriarchal ends justify oppressively anti-democratic means.

Seems like a clue as to how they think a fair debate over the merits of their agenda would go, don’t you think?

If the conservative movement wants to pick up the mantle of legal, institutionalized electoral manipulation then so be it, although they’ll have to admit that it is somewhat ironic. After all, the same conservatives who cry Stalinism at even the slightest hint of regulatory tweaks to the market are now advocating for massive regulatory overhauls of the electoral process to achieve purely political ends. Soda taxes are nanny-state paternalism, but laws that make it harder for students to vote are common sense because young people are too dumb to pick the Republican right candidate.

In their own metaphor, that would make the RNC the Politburo of Correct Democratic Outcomes.

In any case, I welcome a more intellectually honest debate over why and how we should make changes to our electoral process. Especially since there are a number of ways we can do so that would produce more representative and, by extension, more accurate electoral outcomes. These include, among other things, universal voter registration; a voting week; proportional polling booth and ballot allocation; non-partisan redistricting; and presidential elections by national popular vote.

I’m willing to say up front that those changes would help candidates I like win elections, if for no other reason than the fact that they would reverse changes that have already made it harder for them to win. Beyond that, though, I also think that they are more comprehensive and more sensible than both our current electoral institutions and the demographic-specific, ad-hoc changes called for by the intellectual Right.

At least now that they’ve officially laid their cards on the table, we can play a real hand.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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