Donald Trump just won the presidency due to the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, but Republican legislators in key states are plotting to make our electoral system even less democratic. Republicans in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Virginia have all proposed allocating one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district and two to the statewide winner, something that only Maine and Nebraska currently do. While this change might sound like a more proportional reform, Republicans have only one purpose in mind: gerrymandering the Electoral College.
How this works is simple: Congressional maps with 55 percent of districts were drawn to favor Republicans and just 10 percent for Democrats. Consequently, Trump carried a majority of 230 districts and Hillary Clinton just 205. Thus, Trump still would have prevailed despite losing the popular vote if every state awarded votes by district, as would have Mitt Romney in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2000. Under this system, Trump likely still would have won even without gerrymandering because he carried 10 more states than Clinton did.
Republicans will cynically argue that this change promotes fairness since a five-to-five tie in Minnesota and a seven-to-six Clinton edge in Virginia come far closer to proportionally reflecting the popular vote in each state than does winner-take-all. However, each state’s electoral votes don’t exist in isolation, and awarding them by district just in states Clinton carried only serves to expand Republicans’ Electoral College edge. If all three of these blue states had used this system in 2016, Trump would have won 12 more electoral votes, giving him a 318-to-220 majority.
New Hampshire Republicans could pass their proposed bill since they completely control the state government, but it would only swing one electoral vote there. More worrisome is that Minnesota’s GOP state house speaker threw his backing behind his state’s scheme, while a Virginia state House subcommittee already approved a measure on a party-line vote. Minnesota and Virginia have Democratic governors who could veto such bills, but the Republican-controlled legislatures could put the change up to a popular vote by referring a state constitutional amendment to the ballot in 2018 with a simple majority vote.
Several Republican-controlled states that Obama won previously considered such a radical power grab around the time of the 2012 elections, but ultimately backed down, with some legislators in swing congressional districts fearing the flood of campaign resources into their constituencies come election time. However, past results are no guarantee of future performance, and after the Electoral College played a decisive role in giving Republicans the presidency in 2016, legislators might find further motivation to consider such a fundamental change.
No other democracy uses an electoral college to pick their president precisely because it’s so insanely undemocratic. With rampant gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, efforts to nullify election losses, and the president himself claiming bogus election fraud, Republicans have already demonstrated repeatedly that they reject the legitimacy of the Democratic Party and even democracy itself. If the GOP continues down this path and do indeed try to gerrymander the Electoral College, America’s ongoing constitutional crisis over the imperiled state of our democracy could come to a dangerous head.