A devilishly clever Republican Party plan to circumvent the popular vote for president in certain states — by awarding electoral votes by congressional district — is moving out of crackpot territory. Yesterday a subcommittee in the Virginia Senate recommended a proposal that would have given Republican Mitt Romney nine of the state's 13 electoral votes, even though he lost the statewide tally. Similar proposals are being floated in other states where Romney lost the popular vote but carried most congressional districts, including Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Jamelle Bouie explains why such a system weakens the votes of big-city dwellers (who, not incidentally, are more likely to belong racial minority groups):
Because Democratic voters tend to cluster in highly-populated urban areas, and Republican voters tend to reside in more sparsely populated regions, this makes land the key variable in elections — to win the majority of a state’s electoral votes, your voters will have to occupy the most geographic space.
Look at the map from 2012. Mitt Romney won the 1st (53%), 4th (50%), 5th (53%), 6th (59%), 7th (57%), 9th (63%), and 10th (50%) districts. Barack Obama won the four remaining districts — the 2nd (50%), 3rd (79%), 8th (68%), and 11th (62%). Had the Carrico plan been in place in 2012, Romney would have won nine of Virginia's electoral votes, and Obama would have won four — even though Obama won the popular vote of the state by nearly 150,000 ballots and four percentage points.
Bouie and Weigel seem so astonished by the audacity of this plan that they understate how brilliant it is. Beyond normalizing the idea of giving the White House to the loser of the national popular vote, it accomplishes a couple of other things.
It's a swipe at environmentalists and believers in climate change. How better to fight the scourge of smart growth than to take away the votes of people who engage in it? The Carrico Plan would punish all the liberal Virginians who foolishly give up their God-given right to sprawl all over the state and instead cluster in cities and towns where they don't have to drive everywhere. This selfishness hurts the auto industry, and apartment dwellers are further responsible for weakening the demand for new single-family homes. Really, all those extra Democrats in urban areas are responsible for wrecking the economy; they're lucky to get away with just having their votes nullified.
It helps conservatives and Tea Party candidates in state elections. The Carrico Plan would help the Tea Party wing of the party by making the Republican brand even more toxic in urban areas than it is now. This would make it more difficult for moderate Republicans (or RINOs) to win state office with the help of cross-over votes from Democrats and independents in big cities. And when the GOP can win only with big margins in rural areas, suspiciously moderate candidates for governor or US senator can be threatened with primary challenges — or with conservative independent candidates who can spoil the general election. (The goal would be something close to the Hastert Rule, normally used to prevent moderate Republicans from joining Democrats and passing legislation over the objections of the rural-dominated Republican caucus.)
It chips away at the "one person, one vote" principle. The Electoral College and the two-person-per-state US Senate already violate the idea that the majority should rule, and the Carrico Plan would more firmly establish the idea that small-town America should have as much political power as big cities, regardless of population. Carrico's proposal also helps to reinforce the idea that it's somehow a cheat to register urban voters and get them to the polls. For more conspiracy-minded Republicans, the Carrico Plan is merely a remedy against voter fraud -— the existence of which is proven by Mitt Romney getting zero votes in many inner-city precincts. (Gee, how could black neighborhoods be so hostile toward Mitt and the Republicans?)
But the Carrico Plan could be improved on this last score. I'm not sure about the constitutionality of this, but my suggestion is to impose separate ballot requirements for presidential candidates in each congressional district. Then the Republican Party could simply fail to file enough signatures to get on the ballot in urban districts. (Fox News can suggest that Black Panthers scared off their signature collectors.) That way, the Republicans can claim that statewide totals are tainted because they were "kept off the ballot" in places like Cleveland and Philadelphia, where they would have surely won hundreds of thousands of votes.