Voting rights have a long history in the South, but a Baton Rouge lawsuit regarding the races of city court judges is giving locals and students a new sense of awareness on the issue. Baton Rouge residents Byron Sharper and Kenneth Hall filed suit against the state in October of 2012 for not drawing new district lines for Baton Rouge city court judge elections after the 2000 census indicated the location of the city’s primarily African-American population. Three out of the five judgeships are white, and Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson told The Advocate about 55 percent of the city’s population is African-American. The lawsuit argues against the Baton Rouge City Court that election boundaries weaken African-American votes and is still waiting on a ruling from federal courts.
Reading Robert Penn Warren’s 1964 interview with Martin Luther King Jr. along with Beth Reinhard’s piece on how African-Americans still lack clout in Congress makes clear a conundrum at the heart of the unfinished revolution King helped lead. Namely, the minority-vote protections locked in by Section 2 the Voting Rights Act of 1965 worked best to ensure minorities had a voice in their own self-government at the federal level in an environment in which the party that elected African-Americans also controlled the House of Representatives, as Democrats did from 1955 to 1995 and again from 2007 to 2011. King spoke about how inequality is fostered by physical segregation, which leads to segregated conversational communities. “Our society must come to see that this whole question of, of integration is not merely a matter of quantity — having the same this and that in terms of a building or a desk or this — but it’s a matter of quality. It’s, if I can’t communicate with a man, I’m not equal to him. It’s not only a matter of mathematics; it’s a matter of psychology and philosophy,” he told Penn Warren. It’s an important point, and one we consider too infrequently these days, in which a more numbers-based approach to questions of equality often reigns supreme.
As Americans commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, one of the key pieces of legislature accredited with advancing civil rights lingers in limbo. In April, a Supreme Court split along ideological and partisan lines voted 5-4 to strip the government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias: the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. “Virtually everyone who has thought of this characterizes the Voting Rights Act as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. “In Georgia, in 1962, prior to the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, only about 27 percent of adult blacks in Georgia were registered to vote. Now registration rates are pretty much identical to whites, and have been for awhile,” he said. “When that legislation was passed in Georgia there were three black offices holders. Now, there are thousands. It’s had a dramatic impact.” The decision was deplored by voting access activists and largely applauded by the states now free from nearly 50 years of intense federal oversight of their elections.
In June, five Supreme Court Justices rolled back the Voting Rights Act, widely considered the most effective tool in preventing discrimination in our nation’s history. Section 5 of the act required that certain states and localities “preclear” proposed election changes with federal officials to ensure the changes were not discriminatory. The Court ruled that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions needed to get preclearance was outdated and unconstitutional. For those of us who care about voting rights, the question now is how do we respond? Some have argued that Congress should update the Voting Rights Act by passing ambitious election reforms. Such proposals include mandating shorter voting lines, making registration more convenient, and passing less restrictive identification requirements. For example, Sam Issacharoff and Richard Pildes—both New York University law professors who advised the Obama campaign—argue that we should look beyond the race-discrimination approach and adopt general election reforms that are race-neutral. The effort to update the Voting Rights Act, however, should focus on preventing voting discrimination—not general election reforms. Promoting broader access is a critical democratic goal, but it is distinct from the goal of preventing voting discrimination. By analogy, a tax deduction for mortgage interest promotes access to home ownership, but separate laws are still needed to prevent banks from engaging in predatory lending—different problems require different solutions. Voting discrimination is real, and broad election reform is not sufficient to address it.
Texas: Texas AG Acknowledges GOP Redistricting Decisions Made 'At The Expense Of The Democrats' | Huffington Post
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) explicitly referenced Texas Republicans’ gerrymandering tactics in a court brief earlier this month, acknowledging that districts were redrawn in 2011 to minimize the clout of Democratic voters. In July, Attorney General Eric Holder filed a lawsuit, arguing that the state should be required to undergo some form of preclearance with districting plans. A month before, the United States Supreme Court had struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that the Texas redistricting plan was no longer subject to federal preclearance requirements.
South Dakota has devised an ingenious new way to curb minority voting. For decades, suppressing the Native American vote here has involved activities that might not surprise those who follow enfranchisement issues: last-minute changes to Indian-reservation polling places, asking Native voters for ID that isn’t required, confronting them in precinct parking lots and tailing them from the polls and recording their license-plate numbers. The state and jurisdictions within it have fought and lost some 20 Native voting-rights lawsuits; a major suit is still before the courts. Two South Dakota counties were subject to U.S. Department of Justice oversight until June of this year. That’s when the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, saying, “Today, our Nation has changed.” Yes, it has. The VRA decision provided an opening for those who are uncomfortable when minorities, the poor and other marginalized citizens vote. Since the decision, new measures to limit enfranchisement have swept the country — mostly gerrymandering and restrictions on allowable voter IDs.
Editorials: Texas Shows Congress Must Update the Voting Rights Act | Spencer Overton/Huffington Post
A recent court action against Texas is important, but it should not fool us into believing that existing laws are sufficient to protect voting rights. Indeed, the central lesson from Texas is that Congress must update the Voting Rights Act. Last week, the Justice Department joined several civil rights groups in asking a federal court to require that Texas preclear its future voting changes with federal officials. The Department relied on Section three of the Voting Rights Act, which remains in force even after last month’s Supreme Court decision. Section three allows a court to “bail in” to coverage areas with contemporary, intentional voting discrimination. Significant discrimination persists in Texas, and the court should order Texas to preclear future voting changes.
The same day, last month, that the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared that Texas laws that had been stopped by the Act—because courts found them to be discriminatory—would immediately go into effect. On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder struck back. In the color-blind wish-world of Chief Justice Roberts and his four conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court, Jim Crow-era restrictions on minority voting represent a sad, historical curiosity, unrelated to modern reality. Surveying the landscape from their marble aerie, these five Justices decided in Shelby County v. Holder that requiring the pre-clearance of election-law changes in certain jurisdictions, a provision of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, was now unconstitutional. Congress had passed the Act in 1965 in response to the broad denial of the right to vote; as recently as 2006, an overwhelming majority of Congress found that it was still necessary. The Court simply disagreed: “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” The majority Justices cited a newly minted “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of states as trumping the need to assure the equal voting rights of minorities. This is consistent with their concern for the rights of entities rather than individuals. So how did states exercise their “equal sovereignty” in response to the Court’s decision? Texas is a clear example. In 2011, the Texas Legislature had approved a state-issued photo-I.D. requirement. A Washington, D.C., court struck the law down, determining that it “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities in Texas.” With the Supreme Court decision, the law was unstruck and became the law of Texas. Similarly, after Texas redrew political boundaries in 2011, another court found that minority groups “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here” and threw the maps out. Now, with the Supreme Court decision, Texas can draw any maps it wants and they are excluded from pre-clearance.
Every ten years, after the U.S. Census releases its latest population reports, most of the 50 states begin the complicated process of drawing new election districts. As you might expect, partisan bickering and maneuvering inevitably distort things. So a decade ago, Arizona voters decided to end the partisanship by removing the redistricting process from the state legislature and placing it in the hands of an independent commission. Last year, the new commission, consisting of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a nonpartisan chair, got to work on its first set of maps after the 2010 census. Unfortunately, the results were anything but nonpartisan. The independent chair sided consistently with the two Democrats, essentially giving them control over the makeup of the congressional and state legislative maps. Lawsuits were launched, along with a push by Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, to impeach the chair. The new maps, if let stand, “could reshape the state’s political landscape” in the Democrats’ favor, the Arizona Republic reported. Already, state lawmakers are looking at doing away with the commission or significantly changing it.
Editorials: North Carolina redistricting decision a setback for voting rights | Brentin Mock/Facing South
This week, a three-judge panel in North Carolina voted to preserve the 2011 GOP-drawn redistricting plans that civil rights and voter groups say are racially gerrymandered. “It is the ultimate holding of this trial court that the redistricting plans enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 must be upheld and that the Enacted Plans do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina as those rights are defined by law,” reads the judges’ ruling. What does this mean for voters of color and citizens of North Carolina? Well, challenging the redistricting plans was already a tough deal to begin with. Republicans drew the post-2010 Census lines to their advantage, giving themselves a 9-4 congressional district edge, up from the 7-6 split with Democrats before. They also placed roughly 27 percent of African-American voters in newly split state House precincts, compared to just 16.6 percent of white voters. There was similar disproportional segregation of black voters in the new congressional and state Senate districts. But Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice precleared the plans, more than once, when counties were still subjected to the Voting Rights Act.
A Supreme Court ruling Tuesday strips power over voting and election rules from the federal government and returns it to states such as Mississippi with discriminatory pasts. The court, in a 5-4 ruling, effectively eliminated the federal advanced-approval power over voting laws from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Justice Department had used this “preclearance” power to shoot down the literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering and more subtle measures that were used to inhibit minority voting. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the ruling will allow him to “start today” on implementing a state voter ID law that had been awaiting federal approval. He said the new requirements should be in place for the June 2014 primaries.
Editorials: Texas Redistricting Fight Shows Why Voting Rights Act Still Needed | Ari Berman/The Nation
The last time Texas redrew its political maps in the middle of the decade, Texas Democrats fled to Oklahoma to protest Tom DeLay’s unprecedented power grab in 2003. Now Texas Republicans are at it again, with Governor Rick Perry calling a special session of the legislature to certify redistricting maps that were deemed intentionally discriminatory by a federal court in Washington and modified, with modest improvements, by a district court in San Antonio last year. Republicans want to quickly ratify the interim maps drawn for 2012 by the court in San Antonio before the court has a chance to improve them for 2014 and future elections. “Republicans figured out that if the courts rule on these maps, they’re going to make them better for Latinos and African-Americans,” says Matt Angle, director of the Texas Democratic Trust. The maps originally passed by the Texas legislature in 2011 personified how Republicans were responding to demographic change by trying to limit the power of an increasingly diverse electorate.
North Carolina: Prepare for a Special Election in the Craziest-Shaped Congressional District in the Country | National Journal
President Obama’s decision to tap Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency ensures that, if confirmed, he will be playing a pivotal role in housing policy. But it also spotlights the awkwardly shaped congressional district he will be vacating, one of the most gerrymandered in the country. The district was originally drawn to connect scattered African-American precincts in towns from Gastonia 160 miles south to Raleigh-Durham. It now covers a smorgasbord of disconnected metropolitan areas, including parts of the cities of Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Lexington, Salisbury, and High Point.
Montana state Democratic Senator Sharon Peregoy appears to have been ejected from the Senate’s ethics committee—for pounding on her desk during a rowdy protest of all Democratic senators in that legislative body on Friday, April 5, said Peregoy, who is Crow. The Democrats, who are in the minority, had attempted to block majority Republicans from passing two bills seeking to restrict voting rights, according to Peregoy. When the Senate’s Republican president Jeff Essman ignored a Democratic motion, the minority members stood, shouted and banged on their desks for 15 minutes, as observers in the 2nd-floor gallery surrounding the chamber stamped, screamed and whistled. With Essman bellowing over the ruckus, Republicans passed the measures and sent them to the House. “The voting measures were among numerous anti-Indian bills the Senate has taken up,” Peregoy said. “I’ve never seen so many in one session—including water compacts, the size and range of bison herds and more.” Peregoy is one of three Native members of the 50-member Montana senate; the 100-member house has an additional five Natives.
A Republican Party consultant testified at a trial over Arizona’s election redistricting that the state’s redrawn maps were the result of a “deliberate policy of underpopulating some districts” to benefit Democrats. Republican voters, in the federal court trial in Phoenix, accuse the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission of “a pattern of discriminatory intent” by concentrating Republicans in districts that exceed the average population while leaving Democrats with pluralities in a disproportionately large number of underpopulated districts. “What you saw manifested is that all of the potential voters in districts overpopulated have had their votes diluted and potential voters in underpopulated districts have had their votes enhanced,” Thomas Hofeller, testifying for opponents of the plan, said yesterday. Hofeller, a redistricting consultant for the Republican National Committee, said that the five most underpopulated districts were what he called Hispanic districts. That would be consistent with an attempt to under-populate Hispanic districts, and it wouldn’t be a logical outcome if it hadn’t been a goal to under-populate them, he said.
In the 1980s, a joke that ran through California political circles was that more turnover occurred in the Soviet Union’s Politburo than in the state’s U.S. House delegation. The laugh-line still worked well after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. From 2002 to 2010, the partisan re-election rate for California House seats was 99.6 percent. Only once in 265 House races in general elections during those years did a district’s representation flip parties, going from Republican to Democratic. That stability ended last year after California (STOCA1) voters in 2010 gave a citizen’s panel the power to redraw the House districts. The impact, combined with a new primary system, was immediate. One out of four of the state’s 53 congressional incumbents departed through retirements or defeats in the 2012 primaries and elections. “You’ve had voters shoehorned into districts for the sake of maintaining incumbency and we aren’t doing that in California anymore,” said Kim Alexander, founder and president of California Voter Foundation. “It was a big shakeout. That’s probably what would happen everywhere if you had fair redistricting.”
In the 1780s, Patrick Henry tried to shape Virginia’s House district lines to block James Madison from serving in the first U.S. Congress. The grudge between the two men: Henry opposed the U.S. Constitution freshly written primarily by Madison. The gambit failed and Madison won his seat. More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress. A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans. The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seatsacross the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
Michigan’s 14th congressional district looks like a jagged letter ’S’ lying on its side. From Detroit, one of the nation’s most Democratic cities, it meanders to the west, north and east, scooping up the black- majority cities of Southfield and Pontiac while bending sharply to avoid Bloomfield Hills, the affluent suburb where 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was raised. Its unusual shape is intentional. Michigan Republicans, seeking to maximize their political strength, drew the district lines — and the residential patterns of Democratic voters made their job easier. Michigan (CONSSENT)’s 14th district underscores how Democrats across the U.S. are bunched in big metropolitan areas, resulting in the party’s House candidates often winning by wide margins on Election Day while Republicans capture more seats because their voters are spread out.
If skepticism from the Supreme Court’s conservative wing is any indication, a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could be struck down this year. This should alarm anyone who views voting as a fundamental right and not, as Justice Scalia characterized it (to audible gasps), a “racial entitlement.” Section 5, the statute at the heart of Shelby County vs. Holder, requires areas with a history of voter discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing any election laws. The measure is considered one of the most successful anti-discrimination laws on the books and today remains key to combating voter suppression. Yet during oral arguments last week, the high court’s conservatives suggested that this critical voter protection tool has served it’s purpose and now unjustly infringes upon the rights of states and municipalities; that, essentially, the law worked too well to continue. To this point, Chief Justice Roberts rhetorically asked whether “citizens of the South are more racist than citizens of the North.” Clearly, no region has a monopoly on discrimination. But the question the court should be asking is ‘are minority voters still vulnerable to systemic disenfranchisement?’
Emerging from the bloody protests in Selma, Ala., the Voting Rights Act was initially heralded as a declaration that the federal government would no longer tolerate the open racism of the segregated South. But this narrow mandate to monitor elections in six Southern states grew quietly over the years, extending to unexpected corners of the country, including the Bronx. Jose Comacho, a Bronx grocer, sued unsuccessfully in 1958 to have the English literacy test removed as a voting requirement. The borough landed on the list of places to be monitored more than four decades ago, along with Brooklyn and Manhattan, when the statewide English-language literacy test required of voters suppressed participation in Hispanic and black neighborhoods around the city to rates low enough to prompt federal intervention. That test, then used by the local political machine to hold on to power as the minority population swelled, is long gone, but the federal oversight has remained. As the Supreme Court reviews a section of this landmark measure that requires federal approval of changes to voting procedures, with members of the court’s conservative majority suggesting last week that it could be time to end it, the Bronx offers a case study into arguments for and against continuing the half-century effort to monitor elections through a racial prism.
National: The Supreme Court could strike down part of the Voting Rights Act – Here’s what that would mean | Washington Post
In heated oral arguments Wednesday, the Supreme Court justices gave the impression that they’re ready to get rid of a key section of the Voting Rights Act. At issue is section 5, which requires the Department of Justice to issue a “preclearance” of any changes to districting or other voting laws in a number of set jurisdictions, covering most of the South but also Manhattan, Brooklyn, some counties in California and South Dakota, and towns in Michigan and New Hampshire. Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the laws had the effect of requiring racially motivated gerrymandering, amounting to the “perpetuation of a racial entitlement” on the part of black legislators and constituents benefiting from the districting. Chief Justice John Roberts agreed, asking Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens of the South are more racist than the citizens of the North?”
National: Court decision on Voting Rights Act could spur election changes, but not turn back the clock | NBC
If Wednesday’s argument before the Supreme Court is any indication, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to strike down or curtail key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Even if the court does move in that direction, election officials in some states will have more leeway to change some procedures, but voters in 2014 won’t suddenly wake up in 1964. Hearing a challenge brought by Shelby County, Ala., several justices voiced skepticism about the formula the law uses to decide which states and other jurisdictions are required to get permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington for any change in voting procedures that they seek to make. In 2006 Congress reauthorized Section 5 of the law for another 25 years. The current formula uses election data from 1972 and earlier to determine which places section 5 applies to. Critics of the law say the formula is archaic and ought to be scrapped.
Editorials: Judging the Voting Rights Act – The Supreme Court should not substitute its judgment for Congress’ on voting rights | Los Angeles Times
Rightly regarded as one of the most lustrous legacies of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlaws discrimination in voting nationwide, but it also requires that states with a history of denying minorities the right to vote obtain the approval of a federal court or the U.S. Justice Department before changing election procedures. This “preclearance” provision, contained in Section 5 of the act, has been repeatedly reauthorized by Congress — most recently in 2006, when it was extended for another 25 years by margins of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate. Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department used the preclearance process to block the enforcement of more than 2,400 voting changes on the grounds that they would undermine minority voting rights. Yet this proven protection may be on constitutional life support. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case from Alabama that challenges Section 5 and the formula by which nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others (including California) are required to obtain preclearance when they redraw district lines, modify registration procedures or change any other practice that might disadvantage minority voters. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act fear that conservative members of the court — and perhaps not only conservatives — are poised to rule that the law violates the prerogatives of states that no longer practice the sort of blatant discrimination that inspired the original legislation.
There have been a lot of claims recently about the impact of redistricting on the 2012 congressional elections. Progressives are alarmed that Democrats won a majority of the House vote—roughly 51%—while falling a full 17 seats short of a majority. Such a discrepancy between the winner by votes and the winner by seats is rare, so it’s natural to assume that Republican gerrymandering—the process of drawing districts to advantage one interest over others—might be the culprit. Neuroscientist and election forecaster Sam Wang recently added fuel to the fire, calling the 2012 outcome “The Great Gerrymander.” He identified 10 states, most of them controlled by Republicans, as notable and egregious deviations from a fair outcome, suggesting that gerrymandering cost the Democrats 15 seats in the current House of Representatives and calling for redistricting reform to fix the problem. Wang’s conclusion resembles that of political scientist Nicholas Goedert, who suggests that the 2012 maps cost the Democrats 14 seats. Is this right? Has gerrymandering allowed Republicans to defy the will of the people? The crucial question to ask when deciding whether redistricting “mattered” is: compared to what? What is the alternative set of districts—the “counterfactual”—to which you’re comparing the current districts? Once we consider some other alternatives, these claims about gerrymandering aren’t as strong as they first appear.
Frank “Butch” Ellis Jr. was sitting in his law office a half-hour’s drive from Birmingham, Ala., about three years ago when Edward Blum, an investment banker turned conservative legal activist, called him to discuss the Voting Rights Act. Although the two had never met, they quickly bonded over a common grievance. Blum specifically wanted to discuss a provision in the landmark civil rights law requiring localities with a history of racial discrimination to obtain U.S. Justice Department permission to make any changes to their election procedures. Ellis, during nearly a half-century practicing law in Shelby County, had watched municipal clients jump through procedural hoops to gain “preclearance” from Washington lawyers. Moving a polling place could take months, for example, and require a voluminous paper trail. When Blum suggested that Shelby County officials, with Blum’s financial support, someday might challenge the provision in court, Ellis agreed. “We knew the only way to attack it was in the courts, in Washington,” Ellis explained recently. “We had the desire to do it, we just couldn’t spend our taxpayers’ money on it.”
Having the first modern democracy comes with bugs. Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II. Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you. Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued aprogress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.
Editorials: Republican plans for Electoral College reform: Democrats shouldn’t worry about the GOP’s ideas for changing voting rules in Virginia, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania | Slate Magazine
Sound the alarm! Democrats are on high alert! Josh Marshall calls it a big, big deal. Eric Kleefeld says if the blueprint were in place last November, the GOP would have “stolen 2012 for Mitt Romney.” Steve Benen of the Maddow Blog calls it a “democracy-crushing scheme” showing that “the will of the voters and the consent of the governed are now antiquated concepts that Republicans no longer value.” They’re all talking about potential plans to change the method for electing the president in states like Virginia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—states that have Republican legislatures and governors but voted for Obama in 2012. Instead of awarding all of the state’s Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate getting the most votes in each of these states, under the proposed plans most of the Electoral College votes would be awarded to the winner in each congressional district—and thanks to Republican gerrymandering of those districts, such a scheme would be a windfall for Republicans. This plan would be deeply concerning if Republicans were really going to enact it. But the same self-interest that is leading Republicans to consider this move is also going to lead most of them to abandon it almost everywhere. The Great Democratic Freak-out is unjustified. But it is not without its usefulness, because it reminds wavering Republicans what they will face if they go down the road of unilateral Electoral College reform.
Following another bitter presidential loss, Republicans in several states are pushing for rule changes that would boost their odds in future races — essentially, switching the Electoral College allocation method in Democratic-leaning swing states from the current winner-take-all system to one that would help Republicans capture at least some electoral votes in those battlegrounds. In the short run, of course, such changes would probably help Republicans siphon off electoral votes in states like Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. But these rule changes would also make a mockery of the concept of fair elections, and harm the twin Republican principles of conservativism and federalism. Currently, all but two states award Electoral College votes using a winner-take-all system (called the Unit Rule). The Unit Rule is not mandatory. Other methods have been used in the past, including having the state legislature hand out the electoral votes however it sees fit. Another popular alternative method, one that is currently used by Maine and Nebraska, is giving one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district.
A week ago I noted a new Republican push to gerrymander the electoral college to make it almost impossible for Democrats to win the presidency in 2016 and 2020, even if they match or exceed Barack Obama’s vote margin in 2012. Is something like that really possible? Yes, very possible. To review, here’s how it works. The US electoral college system is based on winner take all delegate allocation in all but two states. If you get just one more vote than the other candidate you get all the electoral votes. One way to change the system is go to proportional allocation. That would still give some advantage to the overall winner. But not much. The key to the Republican plan is to do this but only in Democratic leaning swing states — not in any of the states where Republicans win. That means you take away all the advantage Dems win by winning states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and so forth. But the Republican plan goes a step further.
It wasn’t so long ago, coming off a bruising presidential election, that Republicans were looking at ways to increase vote percentages among younger and minority voters to remain a contender in national elections. But it appears professional Republicans have decided that’s either impossible, unnecessary or perhaps just too hard. Because now they’re going for another possibility: rig the electoral college to insure Republican presidential victories with a decreasing voter base. In other words, nuclear gerrymandering. The plan is to game the electoral college to rig the system for Republicans. It works like this. Because of big victories in the 2010 midterm — and defending majorities in 2012 — Republicans now enjoy complete control of a number of midwestern states that usually vote Democratic in national (and increasingly in senatorial) elections. It may be temporary control but for now it’s total. Use that unified control in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania to change the system of electoral vote allocation from winner-take-all to proportional allotment. So if you win Ohio by one percent you get about half the electoral votes and just a smidge more as opposed to winning everything.