Nearly a decade before the GOP responded to President Obama’s re-election by proposing to rig the Electoral College in states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, Republicans vehemently opposed the plan and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting its implementation.
In 2004, when Colorado was still a red state and then-President Bush was locked in a tight race with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the state had a ballot initiative that would have shifted its allocation of electoral votes from winner-take-all to proportional. Under the proposal, for example, even if Bush had won 60 percent of the vote, he still would only get 5 of the state’s 9 electoral votes instead of all 9.
However, the proposed Electoral College rig ended up getting trounced for one reason: Republicans strongly opposed the idea.
The push against Amendment 36, which failed by a 2-to-1 margin, was led by Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who lambasted the idea as a “transparently partisan movement”. Owens detailed his opposition in a USA Today op-ed:
There’s a transparently partisan movement afoot in Colorado to distribute our Electoral College votes proportionately. The goal? To give John Kerry a four-vote Electoral College boost, putting him ahead of President Bush in a close election.
But that in and of itself is not the reason proposed Amendment 36 on the Nov. 2 ballot is bad for Colorado. The fact is that if Amendment 36 passed, it would forever make it easy for presidential candidates to ignore Colorado, since our state would be an Electoral College “lone ranger” among states.[…]
Here’s why: Colorado is a state with a slight Republican majority, but which, nevertheless, has a longstanding tradition of electing Democrats to statewide and national office. If Colorado split its electoral votes, leaving just one or two electoral votes in play, future presidential candidates — and presidents — would ignore Colorado and its interests in favor of states with more electoral clout. They would skip over us and move on to more fertile ground.
If that sounds like the same argument Democrats and anyone opposed to GOP’s electoral rigging efforts are currently making, that’s because it is.
Owens was joined by all his fellow state GOP officials in opposing the plan. Republican consultant Katy Atkinson, who organized the anti-36 effort under the umbrella group “Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea”, noted that it would undermine the state’s clout. “[If Amendment 36 passes], Colorado will effectively have 1/3 of the power of Alaska, Delaware or Wyoming,” Atkinson wrote. State newspapers roundly criticized the initiative; the Pueblo Chieftain even called the proposed electoral rig a “quest for pure, raw political power by the left.”
National conservatives also criticized the idea. George Will wrote a scathing article in Newsweek, calling it a “pernicious proposal”. Major GOP funders also rallied against the referendum; Sheldon Adelson alone contributed $100,000 against Amendment 36.
In 2004, Republicans fervently opposed manipulating the Electoral College when the Democratic candidate stood to benefit. A decade later, after Obama won his second term and pundits discuss a long-term electoral realignment, Republicans are abandoning that principled stand in an attempt to rig future presidential elections.