(MintPress) – When George W. Bush won the presidential election over Al Gore in 2000, despite losing the popular vote, a natural discussion about the effectiveness of the Electoral College system sprung. Yet it wasn’t Republicans leading the discussion — it was Democrats.
Now, the tables have turned.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed a plan that would alter the way Electoral College votes are awarded to presidential candidates, switching from a winner-takes-all approach to a system that divvies up electoral votes based on the popular vote of each district, rather than the state.
The Electoral College vote count for each state is based on a formula that includes the number of U.S. representatives for each state as well as senators. Nationwide, there are 538 electoral votes in the equation, with states of greater populations representing a larger piece of the puzzle.
The plan is not to move toward a popular vote system, but to create one that moves even farther away from that model. Is that what Americans want?
A Gallup Poll conducted in 2011 showed that 62 percent of Americans favored amending the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College system with a popular vote system. Just 35 percent said they would like to stick with the Electoral College.
So, why the change?
Priebus is targeting battleground states that went blue in 2012, including Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia and Ohio, among others.
“It’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at,” Priebus told Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In May, a proposal was introduced by a Wisconsin legislator that would have done just that. This was before the presidential election, but Wisconsin was expected to vote blue. The proposal didn’t go far, but if it had, it would have given some votes to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, giving Romney half of the electoral votes that went to Obama.
Now, Wisconsin lawmakers are at it again, along with those in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where similar bills are expected to be introduced. Democratic leaders are already pushing back, accusing the Republican Party of creating rules that will play in their favor.
“This is nothing more than election-rigging,” Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer told the Associated Press.
But in states where Republicans control the House and Senate — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio — the Democratic sentiment might not matter.
A move toward fairness — or election rigging?
Obama won the popular vote for the 2012 presidential election with 51 percent of the votes, with 5 million votes separating him from Romney. In terms of states, Obama took 26, including Washington, D.C., compared to Romney’s 24. Electoral College wise, Obama took 332, while Romney collected 206.
For all intents and purposes, the electoral system worked in the 2012 election, at least in terms of lining up with the popular vote. This has not always been the case, as seen in 2000, 1876 and 1888, but the system proposed by Priebus wouldn’t correct the only problem the Electoral College has encountered.
It could complicate matters worse. Why, then, if any reform was done to the electoral system, would one that further flaws it be considered? Simply put, it could lead to more Republican victories.
The Associated Press reported that it’s unclear whether a switch to the new electoral system before the past election would have hoisted Romney to power, considering it would depend on the number of states adopting the policy.
And that’s another issue being looked at in this debate. If some states go this direction, would it create an uneven playing field throughout the U.S., with some states divvying up the votes and others not? Maine and Nebraska have already taken similar steps, with the winner of each district awarded the electoral votes — the statewide vote is accounted for through two electoral votes.
The new system proposed by Priebus could, in theory, help the Republicans. However, analysts now claim that what could be better for the Republican Party is to endorse a popular vote system — one that is, seemingly, fair to all.
Following the 2012 election, Nate Silver of the New York Times, known as the accurate predictor of the 2012 election results, indicated that Romney would have had to win the popular vote by 3 percentage points in order to carry the electoral votes needed for victory. Winning by 1 or 2 percent wouldn’t have done the trick.
It wasn’t an issue this time around, but it could be in the future. And if Priebus’ proposals sweep the nation, there’s no guarantee the electoral vote and popular votes would be at odds. It would be more likely, however, that a Republican could lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College — rather than a Democrat.