Democratic Panic du Jour: Rigging the Electoral College

Republicans don't look ready to push for damaging electoral college reforms.

Congressional clerks pass the Electoral College certificate from the state of Ohio while unsealing and organizing all the votes from the 50 states in the House of Representatives chamber at the U.S. Capitol January 4, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

From The Nation to Salon to MSNBC, the fear is building: Republicans might use their expanded control in state legislatures to rig the electoral college. Here's the scheme, as explained by Zachary Roth:

Republican-controlled states that have lately gone blue in presidential elections would pass legislation that changes the way the state divvies up its electoral college votes. Instead of all going to the winner of the popular vote, they’d instead be allocated based on the winner of each congressional district, in most versions of the plan. Or, they could be split up in proportion to the popular vote in the state—so if a candidate gets 48% of the vote, he gets 48% of the electoral votes.

And, as Roth says, it gets worse: The 2011 gerrymanders that packed Democrats into a small number of urban-centered districts produced maps that would give electoral vote wins to Republicans even if they lost the popular vote in their states. Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania—all of them won by Barack Obama, all of them carved up into mostly-Republican congressional districts as Democrats were ghettoized in Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh.

The good news for liberals? Having spent many hours covering the previous outbreak of Rig-mania, I don't yet see the same enthusiasm this year. Problem one: The evidence of a groundswell comes from one National Review blog post and two op-eds by FairVote's Rob Richie, who opposes the GOP plans and favors a national popular vote. Michigan progressives are worried about Representative Pete Lund's statement that he wants the rigging bill taken up. But that's what he wanted in 2012, and Jordan Gehrke, a Republican strategist who helped Lund that year, tells me that he has heard nothing from him since the election. And Governor Rick Snyder already told Bloomberg's Al Hunt that he doesn't want to sign such a bill.

Problem two: There's not much visible enthusiasm in the purple states that kicked off the 2012/2013 round of rigging speculation. Republicans simply did too well in 2014. After Barack Obama's election, they wondered whether they could ever take back the Midwest and Virginia (the rigging discussion is limited to those states). After this year, after re-electing Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and John Kasich, they're more confident they can compete in the key states. That's dampening enthusiasm for a reform that grows harder and more impolitic as the new year begins. For the moment, the new electoral college panic is purely preventative, with a side of clickbait.

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