Last week, while much of the country was focused on President Obama's second inauguration, or was distracted by a three-day weekend, a quiet coup by Virginia state Senate Republicans disappeared a Democratic state Senate seat. Virginia's upper house is evenly split, but with Sen. Henry L. Marsh III in Washington for the presidential inauguration, the Republicans used his absence and a party line vote to approve a new redistricting plan that eliminates a Democratic Senate seat, thus giving themselves a likely more permanent majority, beginning in 2015. But that was only the beginning of what they want to do. Virginia's Republicans have an even more cynical plan for 2016:
A Republican-backed bill that would end Virginia's winner-takes-all method of apportioning its 13 electoral votes in presidential elections cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.How would the new system work?
The bill would apportion electors by congressional district to the candidate who wins each of the state's 11 districts. The candidate who carries a majority of the districts would also win the two electors not tied to congressional districts.And what would it have meant, last November?
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Last fall, President Barack Obama carried Virginia for the second election in a row, making him the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win Virginia in back-to-back presidential elections. For his victories, he received all 13 of the state's electoral votes.President Obama won Virginia by 149,298 votes, or 3.88 percent, yet under this new Republican plan he would have won less than half of Virginia's electoral votes. Whatever you want to call it, that is not democracy, it is not the will of the people, and it is antithetical to every precept by which representative government is supposed to work. Certainly, the Electoral College is anti-democratic in its very design, but this move wouldn't be a step toward leveling the power and impact of each individual voter, rather it would be a huge step away from that, empowering a deliberately chosen few at the expense of a deliberately excluded many. It's long been the Republican way on economic matters, but now they want to take it to the very basis of how we are governed. It would literally destroy the concept of representative government, in this country. And because Republicans are Republicans, it also is a blatant effort to disenfranchise minority voters. And this effort is not limited to Virginia.
Under (the Republican sponsor's) revision, Obama would have received only four Virginia electoral votes last year while Republican Mitt Romney would have received nine.
Backed by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, an effort is underway which would mirror that in Virginia, to guarantee that Republican candidates become president despite losing even by large margins of both the national popular vote and the popular votes of states whose Electoral majorities they would be effectively stealing. This is not about fixing the Electoral College system, it is about rigging it. Ian Millhiser explains:
The Republican election rigging plan targets blue states that President Obama won in 2008 and 2012, and changes the way they allocate electoral votes to give many of these votes away for free to the Republican candidate for president. Under the Republican Plan, most electoral votes will be allocated to the winner of individual Congressional districts, rather than to the winner of the state as a whole. Because the Republican Plan would be implemented in states that are heavily gerrymandered to favor Republicans, the resulting maps would all but guarantee that the Republican would win a majority of each state’s electoral votes, even if the Democratic candidate wins the state as a whole.If Republicans want to talk about comity and open dialogue, they can begin by declaring this effort dead, in the interest of basic democratic principles. If the pundits who bleat endlessly about the need for bipartisanship have any principles at all, they will loudly and consistently declare their outrage at a plan that would render the will of the people null and void. If Third Way type centrists actually believe there is a path toward less acrimonious governance, they can begin by ending their false equivalency that lumps Democrats who have fairly won the opportunity to pursue a Democratic agenda with Republicans who never compromise, never negotiate in good faith, and now are planning to blow up the very concept of representative governance. And keep in mind that even the Republican control of the House of Representatives is due entirely to gerrymandering, which already has undermined the will of the voters, because in some states where Democratic candidates won a majority of overall Congressional votes, Republicans nevertheless won large majorities of actual Congressional seats. Nationally, Democrats won more Congressional votes than did Republicans, yet Republicans retained their majority in the House. This also was by design, and in apparently accidental moments of honesty, some Republicans have even admitted it.
In other words, a system that would allocate presidential electors by Congressional district would be twice rigged against the will of the voters, and the American system of government would be twice divorced from representative democracy. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post explained:
The new system would allow Republicans to consistently win electoral votes (and quite possibly a majority of electoral votes) from states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia, regardless of whether they win the statewide vote.But it's even worse than that.
All five of these states went for Obama in 2012. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have consistently gone blue at the presidential level, and Virginia is tilting in that direction, which would make winning any electoral votes in these states a victory for the GOP.
In fact, if every state awarded its electoral votes by congressional district, it’s likely that Mitt Romney would have won the 2012 presidential election despite losing the popular vote by nearly four percentage points. (According to Fix projections and data from Daily Kos Elections, Romney won at least 227 congressional districts and 24 states, giving him 275 electoral votes — more than the 270 he needed.)Think about that. Think about what it would do to this country, and what it would tell the rest of the world. President Obama won the national popular vote by close to 5 million votes, but if the Republican plan had been in effect Mitt Romney might now be president. No matter your political allegiance, if you believe in such basic concepts as democracy and representative government and will of the people and fair elections, such a plan should leave you not just angry but infuriated and aghast. Unless this effort is buried, it should be the issue and the the story, because nothing even approaches it in importance. Every political issue is by it trumped, because it would trump every issue, and in countless cases countermand what the people of this nation want done on the issues.
In addition, if just the five states mentioned above changed their systems, Obama’s 126-electoral-vote win would have shrunk to a 34-vote win — close enough where a different result in Florida (which Obama won by less than one point) would have tipped the 2012 race in Romney’s favor.
Unless this effort is buried, all elected Democrats must understand and act on the reality that Republicans with this effort are proving they are neither responsible nor responsive, and that their every pretense of patriotism and honor is nothing but a lie. The danger of this effort cannot be overstated. And if it is allowed to happen, it is a certainty that if on election night 2016 a Republican has by these rigged rules stolen the presidency despite losing the popular vote by millions, the traditional media will shrug it off, just as they shrugged off the later proved stolen election of 2000. But this would be so blatant that even the traditional media's best efforts wouldn't be able to obfuscate it. It would tear the country apart, as every person of principle and conscience awakened to the reality that the dreams and ideals of democracy and republic were dead. But it would be too late. It would be legal, even though the rule of law itself no longer would have any basis in popular consensus.
The time to speak out is now. This can only succeed if done quietly, in the shadows. Already, Florida Republican leaders are backing away from the idea, and the more Americans hear about it, the more they will be outraged by it. Regardless of partisan affiliations, you can be sure that the vast majority of Americans still has a basic sense of fairness, and a respect for the ideals by which this country is supposed to work. The time for Democratic leaders to speak out is now. The time for Republican leaders to be forced to take public stands for or against representative government is now. All Americans of conscience and integrity must stand up and be heard, or anything good and just about the American system of government will fall and be silenced.