Newtown disclaimer. There’s really nothing I could say that hasn’t already been said much more eloquently by someone else. The only thing I’ll note is that Newtown is about 25 minutes from where I grew up. I went to a number of my first punk rock shows at the Newtown Teen Center when I was 13 or 14. Later on, I worked at a summer camp in New Milford, CT, and we’d go to the Blue Colony Diner after late nights. That was the diner where members of the press went all this past weekend, while they waited for updates from police and the medical examiner. So the whole thing is surreal.
Moving on. The topic of voter fraud is rearing its head again in a number of states. The phrase “voter fraud” itself usually describes dirty tricks that are imagined to be taking place on the left. Liberals tend to accuse conservatives of “voter suppression” instead. But this plan making its way through a number of GOP-controlled states is so transparently fraudulent that there’s no other word for it.
Basically, In a number of states that went blue in 2012 but whose state legislatures are controlled by Republicans (e.g. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia), there are plans afoot to start allocating the state’s electoral votes proportionally. National Journal has the story here. This seems pretty innocuous at first, because the need to replace the Electoral College seems like a no-brainer. Everyone hates the winner-take-all system, so awarding votes proportionally would mean, for example, that if Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes and Obama wins 55 percent of the vote, Obama would get 11 EVs and Romney would get 9. Percentages!
Except…this is not all what these state legislators are trying to do. The plan is to award a candidate one electoral vote for every Congressional district he/she wins. It’s hard to overstate just how sneaky this plan is. In most of these states, districts have been designed to group Democrats into as few districts as possible. In Michigan, which has 14 districts, this would entail grouping metro Detroit into, say, four or five districts that a Democrat will win with >70 percent of the vote, and then ~9 districts that a Republican will usually win by a smaller margin. This would leave each state with two more electoral votes to allocate—more on that in a minute. The upshot is what we saw in Pennsylvania this year, where Obama won the state by five points but only won 6 of its 18 Congressional districts. His margin in those 6 districts was simply so immense that it carried the state for him.
As for those extra two electoral votes I mentioned? Michigan and Pennsylvania, in a sop to the candidate that actually, you know, won the state, would award them to the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote. Virginia plans do them one better: They would give those extra two votes to the candidate who won the majority of the state’s Congressional districts. If that plan had been in place this year, Obama’s 52-48 victory in Virginia would have netted him 4 of the state’s 13 electoral votes. There is definitely an evil-genius vibe to this sort of plan because it seems so reasonable until you look at how, exactly, Congressional districts have been drawn.
The best part is hearing state lawmakers try to justify it. Here’s Saul Anuzis, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party: “Congressional districts are divided equally based on population. This is the question: Is the one man one vote principle more important than the overall state vote? If you move away from that, and into something proportional, then the city of Detroit’s votes don’t distort the rest of the state. Each area is represented.”
And Charles Carrico, the guy pushing the plan in VA: “People in my district — they feel discouraged by coming out because their votes don’t mean anything if they’re outvoted in metropolitan districts. … When they come out to vote, they know their vote counts instead of a winner-take-all.”
Wait a minute. How exactly could results from Detroit “distort” the rest of the state? Last I checked, a vote from Detroit and a vote from rural Michigan are each worth one (1) vote. The Virginian complaint strikes a similar tone: that there is something insidious or not “right” about urban voters who actually vote. This is the same kind of logic that Republicans use when they dismiss Democratic victories by saying “Yeah, but they only won the cities.” The idea that non-urbanites deserve to have their votes counted “differently” (i.e. more) is part and parcel of modern Republican identity politics, of a piece with the GOP’s insistence on these Americans’ higher moral virtue and right to farm subsidies.
The logistical problems of the voting system in populated urban areas—long lines, broken machines, mismanged voter rolls, etc—are well documented by now. But at least when these people get to vote, it actually counts as a vote. Even that consolation prize is now in danger.