Politics & Prejudices
Stealing the presidency
GOP tricksters want to 'reform' Electoral College
Published: January 30, 2013
Republicans tried as hard as they could to win last fall’s presidential election. They poured hundreds of millions of dollars into it, got the most photogenic candidate they could, distorted the record and smeared the president behind the scenes.
They even kept George W. Bush out of sight and out of mind for the entire campaign, and muzzled Pit Bull Cheney.
Nothing worked. They lost, and it wasn’t even close.
So now they have a new idea they’ve been trying to push through the legislatures of blue states across the country:
Forget trying to win elections. Let’s steal them instead, the national head of the GOP is telling his troops, in so many words. And they mean to do exactly that, by rigging the rules.
Here’s what’s going on: Most of us are vaguely familiar with the Electoral College, the institution that actually does the electing. The way it works now, it’s actually pretty easy to understand. Essentially, it’s like a giant board game.
Every state has a number of Electoral College votes based roughly on its population. You win a state, you win all its votes.
The whole country has a grand total of 538. Whoever wins one more than half — 270 — gets to be the next president.
Two little states — Maine and Nebraska — can theoretically divide their electoral votes, though that’s only happened once, in 2008, when Barack Obama won a vote from Nebraska.
But now the Republicans have a scheme to rig the system, and they are seriously pushing it. Thanks in part to their landslide victories in the 2010 midterm elections, they control a lot of legislatures in so-called “blue” states, which vote Democratic for president, like Pennsylvania and Michigan. What’s more, they controlled congressional redistricting, and in all these states, they crammed as many Democrats into as few districts as possible.
In Virginia, for example, President Obama easily won the statewide vote: 1,971,820, to 1,822,522. But Obama won only two congressional districts to nine for Mitt Romney. Under the current rules, only the overall state vote matters; Obama won all of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.
Yet now there is a nationwide effort by Republicans to change this, and split every state’s electoral vote by congressional district, with the remaining two going to the overall winner. That would have meant Romney would have won nine votes from Virginia to only four for the President.
In our own Michigan, which gave Obama a blowout win of 450,000 votes, Romney would have won the Electoral College contest, nine votes to seven. Sound too crazy to be true? It’s not. Republicans right now are scurrying around, introducing legislation to make this happen in many places, including Michigan.
Had this system been in place nationwide in November, Romney would have been elected president — even though he lost the nation by 5 million votes.
“Gov. Snyder, Speaker [Jase] Bolger and national Republicans want to rig the next presidential election because they can’t win otherwise,” U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) said.
That’s exactly right. In Michigan, the charge to kill democracy is being led by Republican state Rep. Peter Lund, from Shelby Township, who announced he would introduce legislation to get it done. “It’s more representative of the people,” he claimed.
“This is a better, more accurate way. People would feel voting actually matters. It’s an idea I’ve had for several years.”
In fact, he tried this two years ago, but was mostly ignored. Now, however, he’s finding high-level support. Bolger himself, who is waiting to see if he is indicted by a grand jury in connection with another attempt to rig an election, loves it.
“More and more citizens don’t feel like their vote for president counts because another area of the state may dominate that,” he said. For his part, Gov. Rick Snyder did his usual inarticulate song and dance, saying he “could go either way,” and that people “can have a thoughtful discussion.”
Well, as Peters sagely noted, “At this point I wouldn’t put anything past Gov. Snyder, but I hope he listens to his conscience.” Based on what happened with right-to-work, something that “wasn’t on his agenda,” we can be very afraid.
Nationally, Reince Priebus, the improbably named chair of the Republican National Committee, is pushing this hard. Only in blue states, however; they don’t want to lose those congressional districts in places like Texas that Obama won.
There was some sign late last week that some of the more decent Republicans are backing off. Virginia’s GOP governor said he wanted nothing to do with the vote-stealing plan.
Haley Barbour, the former Republican governor of Mississippi, denounced it as well. But others are relentlessly going ahead. If you don’t want presidential elections in Michigan rigged so the Republican always wins, you better let your governor and elected representatives know, right away.
Mark Brewer out? Normally, the chairs of state political parties last two years, maybe four. But state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer has been in power for 18 years now, and seems to want to be chair for life.
His ability to keep his job has mystified many, especially given his long record of wasting vast amounts of money on hopeless and bizarre schemes, such as his “Reform Government Now” attempt five years ago to amend vast sections of the Michigan Constitution at once. After massive sums were spent collecting signatures, the courts threw it off the ballot for being overbroad, something one might think a graduate of Stanford University’s law school might have known.
There was also the famous attempt to put a fake “Tea Party” slate of candidates on the ballot, something that Brewer was never directly tied to, though it showed every sign of being one of his operations. For years, he’s also tried to squelch candidates for office who showed an independent streak.
> Email Jack Lessenberry