The push to rig the 2012 presidential election is under way.
There’s nothing illegal about it: Across the country, state legislatures are embroiled in partisan battles over election-law changes that, by design or effect, could play a significant role in determining the outcome of the presidency.
So far this year, there’s been legislation aimed at overhauling the awarding of electoral votes, requiring that candidates present a birth certificate, not to mention a wide assortment of other voting rights and administration-related measures that could easily affect enough ballots to deliver a state to one candidate or another. Experts say the explosion of such efforts in the run-up to 2012 is unprecedented — and can be traced back to a familiar wellspring.
“Florida in 2000 taught people that election administration really can make a difference in the outcome of an election,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Few legislators come right out and admit they’re aiming to influence the 2012 presidential race. But they don’t always need to.
In Nebraska’s ostensibly nonpartisan unicameral legislature, a recent bill designed to undo the quirky way the state awards its electoral votes spoke for itself. One of just two states that awards its electoral votes by congressional district — rather than to the overall state winner — strongly Republican Nebraska managed to deliver one of its five votes to Barack Obama in 2008. The reason? The Obama campaign targeted and won the district that includes Omaha.
Suddenly, Republicans viewed the system, in place since 1991, as unfair, and a bill was introduced to remedy the situation. The plan fell short — as did an effort to tighten voter identification requirements — but Democrats were nevertheless outraged.
“Look who introduced the bill to eliminate the split electoral vote. Look who introduced the voter ID bill. Perhaps coincidentally, they were both Republicans,” said Nebraska Sen. Brenda Council, an Omaha Democrat.
“The split electoral vote provides the Democratic Party in this state with a limited opportunity in that congressional district. Clearly, both parties try to use the process and the procedures to their advantage,” she said.
Another presidential election reform, the National Popular Vote initiative, has also been viewed by some as a sour-grapes electioneering measure.
An interstate compact that seeks to end-run the electoral college by throwing the election to the winner of the most total votes, its backers insist it is nonpartisan. It’s true that some GOP legislators have backed it, but the eight jurisdictions that have adopted it — seven states plus Washington D.C. — form a checklist of America’s bluest states, none of which have voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988.
And the idea is rooted in the searing experience of 2000, when Democrat Al Gore lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote.