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Right-Wing Electoral College Scheme Gets National Attention

by: David Dayen

Sat Aug 11, 2007 at 09:11:54 AM PDT


It's an old joke in L.A. that nobody here knows about a local story until it makes the New York Times.  Well, then by now, they've all read about this attempt by GOP lawyers to change the way California's electoral votes are apportioned and hand the 2008 election to the Republicans.

When state Democratic leaders from around the country meet this weekend in Vermont, the California chairman, Art Torres, expects to be peppered with the sort of questions that have been clogging his in-box for weeks.

What is this about Republicans trying to change the way Electoral College votes are allocated in California? Is there a countereffort by Democrats in the works? What does it mean for presidential candidates?

Torres has a couple quotes in the piece, but what interested me is a preview of the messaging that will be used to sell this scheme to the general public.  It actually mirrors what every Democrat in the Legislature was saying in the run-up to changing the Presidential primary date...

David Dayen :: Right-Wing Electoral College Scheme Gets National Attention
Far more potentially significant in the near term, however, is a recent move by the lawyer for the California Republican Party to ask voters in a ballot measure to apportion electoral votes by Congressional district. With numerous safe Republican districts around the state, this change could represent roughly 20 electoral votes for a Republican candidate who would otherwise presumably lose the entire state, which has been reliably Democrat (thanks for the slur, New York Times! -ed.) in recent presidential elections.

"We think it is the most effective way of having California count," said Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the ballot effort, the Presidential Election Reform Act. "Candidates love California in the spring when they come out to raise money. But after that, as long as California is not in play, it tends to be ignored."

They're going to use a message of fairness and making California count.  That's going to be attractive to a low-information voter, and millions will have to be spent to counter it. 

According to the Times piece, Eckery's group is fundraising right now, and it will probably take a few million dollars to get the initiative on the June ballot, including about half a million for polling.  That's a low bar; and that's why it is so crucial that we get the word out immediately about this effort to steal the vote.  Building a war chest is less important than using some CDP money to define what this initiative would represent - a piecemeal solution to a problem that would virtually guarantee a Republican successor to George Bush.  This is not something to attack with nuance; the goal is to make it so unpopular that any effort to put it on the ballot would be a suicide mission.

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I can see it now (8.00 / 1)
"we gerrymandered you so well, you STILL won't matter"

a suicide mission (0.00 / 0)
This is not something to attack with nuance; the goal is to make it so unpopular that any effort to put it on the ballot would be a suicide mission.

Indeed.  I've been thinking, though, how best to capture what a bad idea this is.  Some ideas:

  • Tom Delay's mid-decade redistricting of Texas (no respect for the rules; no respect for tradition; no respect for the courts, which were the source of the subverted redistricting plan)

  • The GOP's rather unique understanding of the 14th Amendment in order to win Florida.

  • Karl Rove's win-at-all costs, damn the consequences way of winning campaigns.

This is not a very good list.  We need a better one.  Most of all, we need a well thought out "elevator ride" pitch to get the idea across quickly and memorably.


here's the pitch (8.00 / 2)
"republicans know they can't win, so they're trying to change the rules to stay in the game. they're power-hungry cheaters, and it's time for them to face the music that they can't compete in california because they're heartless, incompetent losers.

it's time for republicans to stop whining and trying to change the rules all the time. if you want california's electoral votes, show up and try to win the state by addressing the concerns of the california mainstream, you sore losers. "


[ Parent ]
Whiners (0.00 / 0)
I think that's the key word there.

"The Republicans in California?  Total whiners.  They can't win unless they change the rules.

Don't reward bad behavior."


[ Parent ]
"There they go again" (0.00 / 0)


I'm union staff, but not a spokesperson for my union - all posts represent my views solely.

[ Parent ]
"For a party claiming fiscal responsibility... (0.00 / 0)
...they sure are excited to waste $50 million for nothing."

[ Parent ]
Fix the system, Don't screw it up worse (0.00 / 0)
"There's a lot wrong with the electoral college system.  But they don't want to fix it.  They want to screw with the system for petty political advantage.

Let's not make a bad system worse.  One election decided in the Supreme Court is enough."


[ Parent ]
Republican Math Short Changes California (0.00 / 0)
"The Electoral College is already a raw deal for California.  Dick Cheney's from Wyoming, right?  So:

Wyoming's  half a million people get 3 electoral votes.
California's 36 and a half million people get 55 electoral votes.

My math says that everybody in Wyoming gets almost four votes for president for every one vote you or I get.

Dick Cheney thinks that's good math.  Karl Rove thinks that's good math. 

Sounds like a raw deal to me.  And now, the Republicans are putting this crazy initiative on the ballot, because they want to make the math worse?

That's Republican math for you.  What it adds up to? Short changing California."


[ Parent ]
the messaging has to be this: (0.00 / 0)
California will be even less relevant if this initiative passes.

First off, the overall balance of the electoral votes will already be decided because of the gerrymandering, which means that coming to California to campaign could mean a difference of only one or two electoral votes instead of 55.

Secondly, it's a shameless powergrab by the Republicans to keep the party in power.

Actually, switch those two around a bit.  But the bottom line is that doing it this way makes campaigning in California useless, and will make even more attention be devoted to battleground states that still do winner-take-all.


Useless campaigns (0.00 / 0)
I think you're right that the gerrymandering of the state would keep the proposal from making CA campaigns any more competitive.  Without getting into the problems of careerism by Democratic legislators in the gerrymandering process, I think the best defense in this situation is a good offense: use it as an opportunity to plug the national popular vote thing we tried to pass before.

If you think about it, the problem with the current electoral system is that it's winner take all within pre-defined spatial units (states).  Making those pre-defined units CD's instead of states doesn't really do anything to solve the problem.  Only the smallest possible unit, the individual voter, makes sense as an electoral unit.

Yes We Kang


[ Parent ]
I disagree. (0.00 / 0)
I am aware that this is an unpopular viewpoint here, but I think changing these rules could be good for California.  With the exception of Reagan, California has been seen as a solidly blue state, and as such can be widely ignored by presidential politics. 
The Republicans can ignore us because they feel they can never win with us, so they make no effort to even try.  This has caused us to get the shaft from this administration, and his fathers administration.
The Democrats (National level, not local.  Lois Capps does a great job, but sometimes it seems like she is one of the only ones doing a great job)  seem to ignore California, because it is a given win for them.  Evidence of this trend can be seen in the way that California is a donor state that pays in 1.00 for every .79 that fed spends (http://www.taxfounda...).  The trend seems to be accelerating downward.

While I am aware that this plan will increase Republican power it will also increase California influence in national elections.


[ Parent ]
How? (0.00 / 0)
Given that the outcome of the vast majority of congressional districts would be just as predetermined, in what way do you imagine this plan would compel candidates to pay more attention? The electoral math would be different, yes, but not particularly more difficult to predict well ahead of time and without regard for the level of campaigning.

[ Parent ]
That is a very fair question (0.00 / 0)
I think this comes down to the adage about how something is not a perfect solution so lets do nothing.  It is not a perfect solution. It is a step in the right direction.  It is a step that increases democracy. The step after this is to redistrict in such a way to minimize the number of safe seats for anybody or at least in a way that makes geographic sense. My own district is so narrow in places that it is almost split at high tide, and our representative is impossibly safe. The current situation is bad.  Its bad for both parties. 
Sane redistricting might even lead to some viable third parties.

[ Parent ]
So there should be redistricting (0.00 / 0)
I agree.  But I fail to see how this improves democracy given that, at the national level, it would likely make the presidential race much less competitive.  At best it might increase the influence of California (dubious), but it would almost certainly lead to people in other parts of the country being even less invested.

[ Parent ]
we could always call their bluff (8.00 / 2)
and threaten to do a sudden mid-decade redistricting aimed at gerrymandering as many republican districts into swing seats as humanly possible, both to deny them electoral votes and make all those reactionary bastards run in moderate districts. make extra sure to fuck over any republicans in leadership positions.

chicago rules.


Chicago Rules, indeed (0.00 / 0)
Not sure if the state Democratic Party has the balls to start looking at redistricting, but I think you have the right general idea: they send one of ours to the hospital, we send one of theirs to the morgue.

[ Parent ]
I thought of this (0.00 / 0)
But I don't see a Republican governor playing along.  What I hope is happening right now at the meeting of the Dem Party chairs is that a coalition of blue states  or states with blue governors are talking about massive gerrymandering (IL, NM, NC and MD spring to mind) if they even try to get this on the ballot.  The road to a 290-member veto-proof House starts now.

[ Parent ]
Abolish Electoral College (0.00 / 0)
I'm against the electoral college and I'm against this proposal. Proportionment is only good if EVERY state has to agree to it for it to take effect

The Silent Consensus

Why not pose a competing initiative? (0.00 / 0)
The opposing argument used by the partisan hacks for CA 07-0032 is that the Democrats have done this before here and elsewhere  - so WE must do it.

Why not pull the rug out from under the argument and slow down any change on how districts are drawn until a national referendum on elections is introduced? One that calls for a nationwide restructuring of the electoral college system, and move to a popular vote system?

Set up this initiative to neutralize the other initiative, and make it a broader issue that focuses on the problem, instead of short-sighting it. We wouldn't be accused of being unfair.

Too much of a wild idea? Willing to get shredded with other concepts/solutions.

NOW is the time to act.


"Lying cheaters" (0.00 / 0)
Brand the plan with Rove and Delay's names on it.  Now.

Sign of the Devil (0.00 / 0)
Yeah, and I'd throw Bush in for good measure.

[ Parent ]
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