Two months after the Election Night and just two weeks after the Inauguration, politicos and pundits started debating the 2016 presidential election. One surprising topic was reform of the electoral college. Electoral reform is an issue that always comes up after a national election, but Republican state legislatures are seriously investigating alternatives. One controversial option is for electoral votes to be awarded according to congressional district. This proposal raised many flags for Democrats and pro-democracy advocates. However, the more interesting story is the reaction of the Republican party to public opinion. At the moment the different reactions show that the party hasn’t reached a common agreement on what position to take. However, the eventual consensus will play a key role in the 2016 election.
Why The Plan Tempts Republicans
The Republicans have an electoral college problem. And they know it.
After the Reagan and Bush Administrations provided a powerful hold on the system, innovations in campaigning combined with demographic shifts eroded their political base in national races. Now a party that once swept 41 states under Reagan faces losing states like North Carolina, Virginia, and potentially Arkansas and Texas. Without such southern strongholds Republican dominance in national politics could vanish for a generation or more. Facing such serious problems a tempting option is to change the political calculus of the Electoral College.
The system, as it currently stands, is an interesting compromise by the Founding Fathers between state interests and popular rule. The current system awards electoral votes on a state by state basis in most cases with a winner-take-all model that awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the winner of the state popular vote. For the most part it works. Republicans want to change to awarding electoral votes based on congressional districts. In short it would tilt the odds to Republicans since they have most of the rural districts. Democrats while superior in numbers mostly live in urban areas.
According to The Washington Post, if this plan were in place in 2012. Romney would have won 12 electoral votes to Obama’s 6 in Ohio. Similarly, 9 of Virginia’s electoral votes would have gone to Romney, leaving only 4 for Obama.
However public opinion presents an interesting barrier to the plan. Popular resistance could create a backlash scenario similar to that caused by stricter voter registration laws. It only encourage more of the opposition to vote. An altered electoral map would drive party activists to campaign more aggressively in all 50 states making normally save districts more competitive. Another unforeseen effect would be the weakening of the political weights of states in national elections. Swings state become obsolete when the winner-take-all rule is no longer in effect. A key part of Republican support values the influence of states in the electoral process and this side effect could become a major blow to regional and state interests normally promoted through the electoral college. So while the chance to make the electoral process more favorable to Republicans has some tempting merits, public opinion embodied by voices in the opposition and even within the Republican party limit its effectiveness as a political strategy for 2016.