Republicans in the Michigan State Legislature have re-hatched a plan to divvy up the state’s electoral votes to give an advantage to the Republican presidential candidate in 2016. Michigan House Bill 4310 would change the way the state assigns its 16 electoral votes. The proposal was introduced by Cindy Gamrat, Thomas Hooker, Gary Glenn, and Todd Courser. All four are Republican lawmakers.
The proposal, referred to the Committee on Elections, would award one electoral vote for each of the 14 congressional districts carried by a presidential candidate. The candidate who wins the state’s popular vote would receive the remaining two electoral votes.
Under the present system, all 16 electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who wins the state. Democrats have carried Michigan’s 16 electoral votes for six consecutive presidential elections. The last Republican to win Michigan was George H.W. Bush, back in 1988.
A similar bill to rig the state’s electoral votes to help Republicans was introduced in the previous legislative session, but it never came up for a vote. In 2011, Republicans in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all hatched schemes to rig the Electoral College for their advantage, but backed down because of fear of a public backlash. In 2008, California Republicans tried to put together a ballot initiative to divide up their state’s 55 electoral votes, but those plans proved unsuccessful.
While most electoral vote rigging plots have been launched by Republicans, Democrats’ hands aren’t completely clean either. In 2004, Democrats in Colorado tried to advance a ballot measure to split up Colorado’s electoral votes. That proposition was crushed by Colorado voters 65-35. Ironically, Colorado has gone blue in the last two presidential elections, so had Democrats been successful in their efforts, Republicans would have been the unintended beneficiaries.
The Michigan proposal is legal, as state’s are allowed to determine how to allocate their electoral votes. Two-low population states, Maine and Nebraska, already divide their electoral votes by congressional district. However, the winner of each of those states usually carries all of the congressional district’s within the state, and gerrymandering isn’t a significant factor, so it has been uncontroversial. Barack Obama did actually manage to eke out an improbable victory over John McCain in Nebraska’s, Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District in 2008, but in 2012, that district voted Republican with the rest of the state.
Although gaming the electoral votes in a state, to secure a partisan advantage, may be constitutionally legal, the Michigan plan is fundamentally undemocratic. In 2012, Democrat Barack Obama carried Michigan by a decisive 54.3-44.8 margin over Republican Mitt Romney. If the current Republican proposal had been in place in 2012, Romney would have earned 9 electoral votes to Barack Obama’s 7, in the state of Michigan, despite losing the state by over 400,000 votes. That is a fundamentally undemocratic way to allocate electoral votes in a democracy.
The Michigan plan would essentially multiply the effects of partisan gerrymandering. The way districts are drawn already creates skewed representation in Congress. There is no need to inject the same level of partisan rigging into presidential contests. Indeed, blatantly self-serving schemes like the Michigan proposal, will further undermine American faith in the democratic process by producing more undemocratic outcomes. Republicans don’t care however, because voter cynicism plays to their advantage anyway.
Ideally, the president should be chosen by popular vote. However, the electoral college, as it presently exists, has served the nation reasonably well. To alter the formula, so that state legislatures can thwart the will of the people, and game the system to the advantage of their party is unconscionable. The Michigan scheme, and any plan in another state that seeks to imitate it, should be killed by the legislature on arrival.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.