Pretty much after every quadrennial set of national elections, you can count on various “reform” efforts involving the indirect election method of the presidency. One seems to be gathering some headway this year, enough for at least for one Louisiana party official to speak to it, and thus bears some investigation, for it has the potential to create better policy-making and parties more in touch with voters’ concerns.
Currently, 41 states of the 43 that have multiple congressional districts provide for at-large, winner-take-all selection of Electoral College electors. Only Maine and Nebraska, each of which contains just two congressional districts, apportion an electorate vote to the winner of each district (the two remaining electoral votes in Maine and Nebraska are given to the winner of the entire state’s popular vote). Now, some states are thinking of joining them, – and Democrats in those states are absolutely livid about it.
That’s because of the top-heavy dynamics that favored the Dems in the 2012 presidential election. President Barack Obama coasted to an easy electoral college victory with 332 of 538 electoral votes – but only from 26 states plus the District of Columbia. That’s just 53 percent of the electoral units, only slightly higher than the 51.7 percent of the popular vote Obama received and a lot lower than the exaggerated 61.7 percent of the electoral votes Obama won in November. Apportion the entire country according to the Maine/Nebraska method and Obama ends up with 315 of the 538 electoral votes – a 58.5-percent margin which looks closer to the popular vote than Obama had under the current Electoral College.
But consider what would have happened had all states that voted for Obama had proportional selection mirroring Maine and Nebraska’s rules while the states voting for Mitt Romney remained winner-take-all. In such a case, Obama loses worse than he won in reality, a 190-vote swing leaving him with only 142 votes. Of course, that wouldn’t happen because every one of the states that are not entirely controlled by Republicans voted for him, so Democrats could have blocked any such move.
But the problem, and the nightmare to Democrats, is that six states with all legislative chambers and the governorship in the hands of the GOP had a majority of their electorates vote for Obama. Have Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin change to the Maine/Nebraska method and that’s a swing of 118 votes, which would have sent Obama home to defeat with only 214 electoral votes; note that these states produced 106 such votes, meaning Obama lost 62.7 percent of the House districts within them even as he won all of their popular votes.
This situation will likely be with us for the foreseeable future. After redistricting only 24 of the 435 House contests in 2012, 5.5 percent, had the major party House candidates within 4 percentage points of each other (the GOP won 11 of the 24). That fact reflects how locked-in partisan majorities have become in these districts.
And why not? After all, the closer to the bottom of the electoral process – at least if you count state legislative seats as the bottom – the more support there has been over the last few years for Republicans. The fact is, with state Electoral College rules currently as they are, Democrats may have an undue advantage in an electoral environment where their voters are both disproportionately concentrated and less likely to turn out in anything but presidential or statewide national office contests. Analysts who overweigh results from elections that disproportionately feature low-information, less-interested voters miss the continuing truth that the country remains right of the political center and thereby favors Republican candidates and policies in the main.
That’s why some Democrats are in hysterics over the proportional proposal. When one reads remarks about making these changes as “election-rigging,” “evil,” and something “to manipulate the political process” that is not a “fair election fight,” it goes to show the profound ignorance of the individuals professing these inaccurate statements. Because the Maine/Nebraska method is perfectly constitutional, historically allowed by several states at varying times over the years, echoing the very republican nature of the Constitution that stands in contrast to the rule by rabble the Framers wished to avoid. If these ignoramuses feel aggrieved, then they need to persuade voting publics to elect people who will not make such a change – and if that’s what the people want, they will.
Ironically, Democrats who complain about proportional distribution of votes seems blissfully unaware, or hypocritically astute, that their own party rules for presidential preference primaries do not allow the very “unit rule” they seem to support unabashedly as an alternative for presidential selection. Further, if they appear by the numbers disadvantaged over the proportional plan, they have another political solution to that: win enough elections in order to draw district boundaries that don’t pack so many presumed Democrats among voters into so few districts that makes their overall support less efficient (that is, reduce vote wastage where every vote above fifty percent plus one is excess and could be used elsewhere) on a national basis.
Thus the essential beauty of this idea. If Democrats appealed to the entire country, rather than disproportionately among lower-information, less-interested voters, they would have the political means to put into place any constitutional rules that they like to play to their electoral strength. What the proportional plan does is to reward parties that organize and mobilize voters for all levels and all contests, not just for an attenuated range. In doing so, this creates a more robust policy-making environment, maximizing a primary function of parties – being able to make policy by putting together the deliberately fragmented power in American government. The more interconnections made by having party control at multiple levels of government, the more coherent and effective policy gets made, making government itself work better for the people.
By way of example as to how this gets reflected, in Louisiana Republicans control state government thoroughly and find the best way to extend that control is to have the winner-take-all Electoral College selection method. This maximizes the chances of making sure compatible policy gets made at the federal level as well. But for the six states mentioned above, there is a disconnection in the ability to link state policy choices to preferences for the federal level that would be ameliorated somewhat under the proportional plan. Unless the public intentionally wants uncoordinated, if not ineffective, policy-making, then the optimal method to attain the opposite is to write election law to link lower-level results to higher-level results..
Let’s say this change happened in these six states this year. After the Democrats stop panicking and ranting, their response should be to begin party-building in these states to make themselves able to win majorities and House elections to either take advantage of the rules or change them. That may include more moderate candidates with more moderate policies that ultimately will make Democrats more accountable and more responsible to all voters at all levels of government, rather than by having a top-heavy structure that has resulted in the left-wing extremism of the national party witnessed today. If this attitude were to pervade all corners of the party, perhaps the Louisiana version would not be the basket case that it is today, unable to win almost any election of any consequence at the statewide level or to hold legislative majorities.
If the goal is to create more responsible and accountable parties and more coordinated and tractable policy-making, this change would be notably superior in comparison to making the presidential election subject to direct popular vote. National Popular Vote, or NPV, creates absolutely zero linkage and represents system change only in that instead of most campaign resources going into a dozen or so states, they would go into a dozen or so mostly different states. And NPV involves state voting populations surrendering their voices and choices to a collective outside of their state over which they have no accountability, rather than amending the Constitution, which is particularly anti-democratic and noxious.
Thus for states controlled by a party which consistently delivers inner-city district votes which swamp the clear preferences of many others, if their people prize improved policy-making and policy more faithfully reflecting the entire range of governing concerns and more faithfully reflecting all citizens who care to govern themselves, a move to the proportional method is worth studying. That’s not the case in Louisiana now, but things always could change. And in those half-dozen states where Republicans control the statehouse and the governor’s mansion but can’t seem to translate that state-level success into a presidential vote, it’s a solution they should consider.