Two bills seeking to rig the Electoral College in order to make it easier for Republicans to enter the White House were introduced in Michigan this month. The first bill, introduced by state Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R), would have awarded 9 of the state’s 16 electoral votes to Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, even though Romney lost the state of Michigan to President Obama by nearly 10 percentage points. The second bill, introduced by state Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R), would have awarded 7 electoral votes to Romney. The second bill, however, may be more appealing to Republican members of Congress because it would shield them from a potential threat to their ability to hold their seats.
Michigan has not supported a Republican candidate for president since 1988. So any legislation shifting electoral votes away from the winner of the state as a whole is likely to favor Republicans.
Under Gamrat’s bill, the bulk of Michigan’s electoral votes would be awarded by congressional district — so the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each of the state’s districts receives exactly one electoral vote per district. This bill, should it become law, would give Republicans a significant advantage because Michigan’s congressional districts are gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. Republicans controlled over 56 percent of the state’s congressional districts after the 2012 election, for example, despite the fact that President Obama won over 54 percent of the popular vote in that state during the same election cycle.
Hildenbrand’s bill operates slightly differently, dividing the state’s electoral votes proportionally to the winner of the state as a whole and then awarding the remainder to the runner up. So, for example, President Obama would have received 54 percent of the state’s electoral votes in 2012, while Romney would have received all of the state’s remaining electoral votes.
Though Hildenbrand’s proposal is less favorable to Republicans at the presidential level, it avoids a side effect that has led congressional Republicans to oppose election rigging plans similar to Gamrat’s. In 2011, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) endorsed a congressional district-based election rigging plan much like Gamrat’s proposal in Michigan. It failed, however, in part because most of the Republican members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation rebelled against it.
These members of Congress feared that, should presidential candidates have to compete district-by-district, the Obama campaign would shift resources into several districts controlled by Republicans rather than leaving them in major Democratic strongholds such as Philadelphia. As a result, Romney could have gained electoral votes at the expense of Republicans losing seats in Congress. To someone concerned only with maximizing the chance that Republicans will control both the White House and Congress, in other words, Hildenbrand’s bill advances the former goal without undermining the latter goal.
Proposals to make the Electoral College more favorable to Republicans have surfaced but, thus far, gone nowhere in several states since the lead-up to President Obama’s reelection. Though they vary in details, the common element in each of these plans is that they would award electoral votes to Republicans in states won by President Obama, while ensuring that red states continue to award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the state as a whole.
And, while these proposals have thus far failed to gain traction in state legislatures, it’s important to note that they could be passed at any time. As the 2016 election draws close, in other words, if Republicans fear that they are headed towards another loss to the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, they could pass such an election-rigging plan in a state where they control the legislature and the governor’s mansion at the height of the presidential campaign.