A Republican operative reveals his initiative to award presidential electors by congressional district in states across the country.
Republican legislators in several states have begun pushing to apportion electoral-college votes by congressional district, a move that has Democrats up in arms. Had a similar scheme been in effect in 2012, nationally or in a handful of key states, Mitt Romney could have won the presidency despite losing the popular vote. (David Graham explains the idea, and why it's so controversial, here.)
Up to now, these efforts appear to have sprouted independently as the work of individual lawmakers in Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The Virginia plan has passed a state Senate committee and could become law as soon as next week.*
But now a Republican operative has a plan to take the idea national.
Jordan Gehrke, a D.C.-based strategist who's worked on presidential and Senate campaigns, is teaming up with Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Republican secretary of state, to raise money for an effort to propose similar electoral reforms in states across the country, he told me this week.
Gehrke and Blackwell have been talking to major donors and plan to send a fundraising email to grassroots conservatives early next week. The money would go toward promoting similar plans to apportion electoral votes by congressional district in states across the country, potentially even hiring lobbyists in state capitals.
Gehrke isn't saying which states the project might initially target. He says he'd like to see the plan implemented in every state, not just the ones where clever redistricting has given Republicans an edge, and he justifies it in policy, not political terms.
A presidential voting system where the electoral college was apportioned by congressional district might not be perfectly fair, he says, but it would be better than what we have now. It would bring democracy closer to the people, force presidential candidates to address the concerns of a more varied swath of the American populace, and give more clout to rural areas that are too often ignored. And while it might help Republicans in states like Virginia, it could give Democrats a boost in states like Texas. Ideally, this new system, implemented nationally, would strengthen both parties, he claims.
I interviewed Gehrke about the plan and the many objections to it; an edited transcript follows.
Why do this?
What we have currently is a system where there are 10 battleground states and 40 states that don't matter. So all the federal government has to do [to secure the incumbent party's reelection] is buy off people in the 10 states and ignore the issues of the people in the 40. You're asking for a larger, more intrusive federal government -- that's what [the current electoral vote system of] winner-take-all does.
You end up with a situation where on Day 32 of the [2010 Deepwater Horizon] oil spill, Obama has not gone to Louisiana. But on Day 36, when oil starts lapping the shore in Florida, all of a sudden he's down there walking around with [former Florida governor] Charlie Crist. Or you get, in 2000, Bush supposedly running as a free trader -- but he comes out for steel tariffs in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, because he's trying to win those states. And then in 2008, when West Virginia is no longer in play, Obama feels free to wage a war on coal.
We should have a system where the people running for president have to worry about what's happening in individual congressional districts. It brings government a lot closer to the people.
If that's your goal, why not just get rid of the electoral college and elect presidents by pure popular vote?
Abolishing the electoral college is not something I support; it's what the Founders intended. This is not abolishing or getting around the electoral college at all. Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution gives exclusive plenary power to state legislatures to award electors in the manner in which they see fit. Massachusetts has changed the way they award their electors multiple times throughout history. There's a letter from Jefferson to the Virginia delegation asking, after he lost to Adams, to change the way they [awarded electors] before the next election.
Already, Maine and Nebraska award their electors in this way, and nobody seems to be outraged about it. The alternative is something like National Popular Vote [an interstate compact currently in place in eight states and D.C. that would award electors to the winner of the overall vote nationally]. It's just not practical -- folks have been trying to do it for years and they need a lot more states to get it done. It's not going to happen anytime soon. This [electoral votes by congressional district plan] is a practical solution to a real problem. State legislators anywhere can simply get together and say, hey, how do I get more attention for my state? How do I make sure every vote counts?
I'm not really here to argue for or against this or that electoral system. All I think we have to prove is that this is better than the current system. The current system's a mess.
Isn't this really a way for Republicans to take advantage of their advantageous 2010 redistricting efforts, which used crazy gerrymandering to give them control of congressional delegations and state legislatures in states where they can't win a majority of the voters, like Virginia?
The question is fairness. We already have a system where you can win the popular vote and lose the election. I'm not saying this is a perfect system; I'm saying that, given that we have a fundamentally imperfect system, this is an improvement. Ultimately, it's very hard to argue that it's better to have a system where presidential candidates can ignore the majority of voters and not address their concerns. I'm not saying our system is perfect, but is this equal or better than what we already have? Do you believe it's acceptable to have, say, 100 million out of 130 million Americans whose votes effectively dont matter? And this other small group whose votes matter more than anybody else's, and that distorts policy outcomes with candidates trying to buy them off?