Republicans are trying to legally rig elections: Michigan edition

Yesterday, Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel reported that Michigan is considering allocating its electoral votes by congressional district, rehashing previous proposals in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.

The bill is making its way through the state’s legislature alongside a different bill that would divide its electoral votes up proportionally by state popular vote. In a move designed to attract Democratic support, this bill is tied to Michigan’s National Popular Vote bill. If the joint bill passes, Michigan would allocate its electoral votes by statewide popular vote until enough states are gathered to trigger the NPV system. That could be a while.

In 2012, President Obama won 54% of Michigan’s popular vote, which is good for 16 electoral votes. However, proportional allocation by congressional district or statewide vote would have left him with seven or nine electoral votes, respectively.

Bills like these have popped up in a number of blue-to-purple states with Republican legislatures, and we should expect to see more on the way. As I’ve written before, the Republican party has realized that it can’t win the presidency with the current rules of the game in place. Consequently, considering their policy agenda more important than free, fair and consistent elections, they have fully embraced the idea of tweaking our electoral institutions in their favor.

Some conservatives, such as National Review columnist Jim Geraghty, have no problem being open about the fact that this has nothing to do with small-d democratic theory and everything to do with big-R Republican success. But GOPers in Michigan are now busy trotting out tired old lines about how much more fair it is to allocate electoral votes based on wildly unrepresentative congressional seats. As the Michigan bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) wrote on her Facebook page: “My bill increases the value of every Michigan citizen’s vote in Presidential elections. Far from electoral college rigging – it strengthens the voice of each Michigan voter!”

No, no it doesn’t. It increases the value of Michigan citizens’ votes in Presidential elections for voters whose candidate lost the state of Michigan. Rather than strengthening the voices of each Michigan voter, it muffles the voices of black people Democrats who live in Michigan’s cities and are already underrepresented on the congressional level.

Republican sign via Shutterstock

Republican sign via Shutterstock

State Rep. Gamrat cites Nebraska as an example of a state that has congressional district-based allocation of electoral votes but, Nebraska might be moving away from that model, themselves. Looking to avoid a repeat of 2008, when President Obama picked up an extra electoral vote from Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, they currently have a bill that would award all of the state’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. And as obviously political as Nebraska’s move is, on balance theirs makes more sense. As I wrote when the Nebraska bill was introduced:

Congressional seats are perhaps the least representative way to determine the national will. In 2012, Republicans won 54 percent of House seats with 49 percent of the two-party vote for members of Congress. But that has nothing to do with why the bill’s sponsor, Beau McCoy, is moving it through the legislature. He and [Nebraska Republican Party Chairman J.L.] Spray have both endorsed other (blue) states allocating electoral votes by congressional district; they just want to make sure that Republicans “have the maximum voice in the Electoral College” by any means necessary — that means winner-take-all allocation in red states and congressional allocation in blue states.

There is no serious argument for allocating electoral votes by congressional district that doesn’t end with “because it helps Republicans win.” And as MSNBC’s First Read noted in 2011, when Pennsylvania proposed a similar electoral vote-rigging bill, “if you’re looking to change the rules of the game, you’re admitting your party can’t win under the current rules.”


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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