Justice

The New Republican Plan To Rig The 2016 Presidential Election

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Last week, Michigan state Rep. Pete Lund (R) revealed a plan that would rig the Electoral College to ensure Republican victories in 2016 and beyond if it were enacted in a sufficient number of states. Like similar proposals from GOP lawmakers who proposed rigging the Electoral College in the past, Lund’s proposal takes advantage of the fact that there are several large states that tend to support Democrats in presidential election years but that are currently controlled by Republicans.

Right now, nearly every state allocates 100 percent of its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state as a whole. Lund’s proposal would change that calculation in the blue state of Michigan, however, while continuing to award each red state’s full slate of electoral votes to the Republican candidate for president. If this plan had been in effect in 2012, for example, Mitt Romney would have won a quarter of Michigan’s electoral votes despite losing the state to President Obama by nearly 10 points:

Michigan election rigging plan

It should be noted that Lund’s election-rigging plan is actually a milder version of a plan that has been around since at least 2011. More than a year before the 2011 election, outgoing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) proposed allocating their state’s electoral votes one at a time to the winner of each congressional district, with the winner of the state as a whole receiving only two electoral votes for this achievement. Because Pennsylvania is one of several states that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012 that is highly gerrymandered to benefit Republicans, this proposal would have enabled Romney to win a majority of the electoral votes in states where he actually lost the popular vote:

GrandTheftElection_fig2

Corbett and Pileggi’s original election-rigging plan did not advance, however, at least in part due to objections from Republican members of Pennsylvania’s congressional district. Under the current system, where the winner of Pennsylvania receives all of its electoral votes, Democrats typically focus their campaigns on areas such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where there are a lot of potential Democratic voters to turn out. If the Corbett/Pileggi election-rigging plan were in effect, however, the Democratic presidential candidate would shift resources into other congressional districts in an attempt to pick up the district’s electoral vote. That would endanger down-ballot Republican incumbents who would have a more difficult time retaining their seat if they were competing against all of the resources of a presidential campaign.

Lund’s election-rigging plan, by contrast, seems designed to allay this concern from Republican incumbent lawmakers. Under Lund’s proposal, “Michigan would award at least 9 of its 16 electoral college votes to the winner of the popular vote in the presidential election. The top candidate would receive additional electoral votes based on how much they beat the second-place finisher by in one-on-one vote totals. Each 1.5 points above 50 percent would mean another electoral vote. Remaining electoral votes would go to the runner up. A candidate who finishes third or lower would not receive any.” Thus, while this proposal would shift fewer blue votes to the red column than the Corbett/Pileggi plan, it also does not give Democrats added incentive to move presidential campaign resources into GOP-controlled House districts. Republican presidential candidates are happy because they get free electoral votes in a state that they lost, while Republican members of Congress are happy because they can run their races relatively unmolested by a presidential campaign.

Republicans in many states also flirted with rigging the Electoral College shortly after their defeat in the 2012 presidential election, although they eventually backed down after several key Republicans came out against the plan. One person who opposed the proposal the last time around was Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) who said that he didn’t think that “this is the appropriate time to look at it.” It remains to be seen whether he will continue to oppose rigging the Electoral College if Lund’s proposal gains traction in the state legislature.

Dylan Petrohilos contributed graphic design to this post.