By Brendan Fischer on December 31, 2012

Despite Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly voting for Democrats in the 2012 elections -- sending progressive powerhouse Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate and reelecting President Barack Obama by 6.8 points -- five of the state's eight newly-drawn congressional districts voted out of sync with the majority of Wisconsinites and went for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This is largely because the GOP reworked congressional maps to their party's benefit during the redistricting process that followed the 2010 census and elections. Now, Republicans in Wisconsin are discussing plans to allocate the state's electoral college votes according to these new Congressional districts, giving the GOP a chance for victory in a state that has elected Democrats in each of the past seven Presidential elections.

Gov. Scott Walker recently expressed support for awarding presidential elector votes by Congressional district rather than statewide totals, incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has sponsored legislation to make such a change in past sessions, and Republican legislators introduced a bill to do this in 2011. As Mother Jones reported, Pennsylvania Republicans considered similar legislation last year, and are again considering such a plan to rig the electoral college. Republican legislators in Michigan also plan to introduce legislation.

A majority of voters in all three states voted for Obama in November, but a majority of congressional districts in those states went for Romney. In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, state government is controlled by Republicans who redrew congressional maps during the last legislative session.

"If each Congressional district has equal weight, Republicans would win much more easily because they carry more Republican districts," said Jay Heck, director of Common Cause Wisconsin. "If they move forward with this, it would be clear to many that Republicans were really trying to win in an unfair way."

After the 2010 GOP electoral surge, Republicans had new majorities in many statehouses and have been able to re-draw Congressional districts to favor their party. Largely thanks to those new maps, the GOP kept control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2012 elections, despite 1.1 million more Americans voting for Democratic House candidates than Republicans.

Republicans are not discussing changes to electoral allocation in solidly red states, but only in Democrat-leaning states whose congressional maps were recently gerrymandered to benefit the GOP -- and if these states allocated their electoral votes according to Congressional district the presidential race could have a similarly disparate outcome.

Proposal Would Change Electoral Vote Allocation from Popular Totals to Allotment by Congressional District

Presidential elections are decided on a state-by-state basis, with candidates jockeying to secure at least 270 of the country's 538 electoral votes (divided among the 50 states based on the size of its Congressional delegation, with the District of Columbia also getting 3 votes). All but two states currently award their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes statewide.

The proposals discussed in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan would allocate one electoral vote for each congressional district won by a presidential candidate, with the two remaining votes going to the winner of the statewide vote. Such a proposal has been implemented in Nebraska and Maine, but both are low-population states with small electoral vote totals, meaning it is mathematically impossible for a candidate to win the popular vote but lose the electoral vote. Not so for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

If Wisconsin had such a plan in place for the 2012 elections, the state's ten electoral college votes would have been split evenly between Obama and Romney, despite Obama winning in the state by nearly seven points. Five electoral votes would have gone to Romney because he won the majority in five congressional districts, with three to Obama since he won the majority in three congressional districts plus two more for winning the statewide vote.

Romney would have fared even better in the other two states, as he won nine of Michigan's 14 districts and at least 12 of 18 in Pennsylvania, despite losing a majority of votes in those states. Under the proposed plan, Romney would have emerged from these three Democratic states with 26 electoral votes, compared with just 19 for Obama.

"Any citizen would look at this and ask, 'if the Democrat gets more popular votes, how is it that the Republican can get [the same or] more electoral votes in a state?" said Heck. "It doesn't make any sense to anyone besides the most extreme partisan."

Wisconsin's "Shameful" Redistricting Warps Electoral Outcomes

In past decades, courts had largely drawn Wisconsin's maps because no single party controlled state government. But after Republicans took control of the Senate, House, and Governor's mansion in the 2010 elections, they were in a position to single-handedly draw and approve legislative boundaries that benefited their party. As ProPublica recently reported, in Wisconsin and elsewhere a network of corporate and "dark money" funders spent tens of millions to influence state races in 2010 and then engineer the gerrymandered maps.

The highly partisan American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was also involved in redistricting. It pushed redistricting approaches spearheaded by the former lawyer for the national Republican Party, Mark Braden, and hosted a special conference call with that partisan lawyer to advise ALEC legislators on redistricting. It does not appear Democrats were invited to attend this secret meeting.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin were sharply criticized for developing the maps under a veil of secrecy and shutting the public out of the process, with a court that heard a redistricting challenge describing the process as "shameful," "sharply partisan," and "needlessly secret."

Those new maps have nonetheless taken effect, and the majority of Congressional districts are now out-of-step with statewide voting patterns.

In some districts this is a consequence of how population is dispersed. The state's urban centers of Milwaukee and Madison are heavily Democratic and suburban Waukesha is solidly Republican. But the redistricting process is also to blame, largely by the Republicans who drafted the map moving Democrats out of swing districts and into areas that were already solidly blue.

This was particularly the case in the 7th District, where Republicans went to great lengths to help first-term Congressman (and former reality TV star) Sean Duffy keep the seat that had previously been held by Democrat Dave Obey for 21 consecutive terms, from 1969 until his retirement in 2011. The district had previously been evenly divided in its partisan makeup, but during redistricting Republicans moved three Democratic-leaning cities out of the 7th District to make it solidly Republican. In past presidential elections the district closely reflected the statewide vote, but in 2012, it voted five points more for Republicans than the state as a whole.

If Wisconsin were to change the way its electoral votes are allocated the 7th District would be another point in the GOP category.

GOP Statehouse Majorities Make Electoral Vote Change Possible

Newly-drawn maps in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania not only helped Republicans on the Congressional level, but also helped cement GOP majorities in state legislative races -- meaning the GOP will likely have the numbers to change how electoral votes are allocated if they move forward with these proposals.

Across Wisconsin, Democrats got more than 52% of the vote in the state's 99 Assembly districts, but because of the newly-drawn maps, won just 39% of the seats. Democrats came away with 53% of the vote in the state Senate race but nonetheless lost two key seats. Coming into the 2013-2014 session Republicans again hold majorities in both the Senate and Assembly.

The proposed changes to how electoral votes will be allocated are only the latest effort by Wisconsin Republicans to twist the democratic process for partisan gain.

In addition to the "shameful" and "needlessly secret" redistricting process, in 2011 Republicans pushed through an ALEC-inspired voter ID law, which threatened to disenfranchise over 300,000 Wisconsin residents -- largely people of color and students, populations that tend to vote for Democrats -- but it was blocked by two judges as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote. The ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin is now discussing amending the constitution to add a voter ID requirement, despite residents of neighboring Minnesota soundly rejecting such an effort last November.

In recent months, Walker and other legislators have voiced support for ending the longstanding Wisconsin law that allows voters to register on election day (even though Walker's own son used same day registration in November to cast his vote). That law has helped the state achieve one of the highest turnout rates in the country but is perceived as helping Democratic voters exercise the franchise.

Heck predicts that it "would ultimately hurt [Republicans] to try something so blatantly unfair" as changing how electoral votes are assigned for partisan gain. "It would set off a firestorm of protest that we didn't see for gerrymandering and voter ID," he said.

"But if you have the votes you can ram anything through the legislature."

Comments

Read the US Constitution. The states are free to decide how to apportion their delegates to the Electoral College. Don't like it? Amend the Constitution. It's perfectly legal.

Yep, we should all just shut up about it until we actually amend the constitution. No point in the media doing their job and educating people about the problem. Oh yeah, and it isn't really a "problem" at all because it's legal, right? And perfectly fair game to boot because even if the approach defies the very essense of democracy and the even more (the most) fundamental aspects of the constitution, all that matters is your own party gets elected, right?

Despite what you wish to imply, Republicans held five of Wisconsin's eight congressional districts prior to the most recent redistricting, and simply continue to hold five of eight after redistricting.
And how was it that Republicans were able to redistrict on their terms? They held both state houses prior to redistricting. Please try to be a little more honest in your reporting.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

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For a website that claims to report on 'spin and disinformation" I found this article to be quite biased and containing a fair amount of spin and disinformation.

This author fails to understand that the USA is not a democracy, but rather a democratic republic based on the rule of law and equal representation.

Going to a national popular vote will not bring about fairness or justice because a majority of people in one locale could dominate the majority of a population in another locale with a different view. For example, coastal peoples out voting people centrally located. They face different circumstances and may have different needs. This is why we have a house of representatives by district as legislators, as opposed to a statewide group of reps. In addition, a senate who were originally voted in by state legislators as a check against too much federal power.

I think changing the allocation of electoral college votes by district instead of a state's winner take all is a good idea, both fair and just. Look at the results of this election, the urban areas with higher populations dominated, particularly in the swing states. Look at the u.s presidential results map by district and you will see this. True representation with checks and balances is better implemented under a district allocation system.

It is those with progressive communistic goals who are benefiting from the current system. Just persuade the urban people to vote democratic. It has been easy to persuade the voters in large cities of swing states to get excited enough to put a con-man into the white house.

WOW, because this article tells you the truth but it's not what YOU want to hear about the cheating republican conservatives - you call it SPIN.... For your information the repubs are lying about the popular vote being better... because they have rigged the popular vote by Gerrymandering the states they control... Look up Gerrymandering and gain some knowledge... hopefully you'll get your head out of the sand about the corrupt far right ALECs....

Propaganda at it's finest! It's no secret the far right, bought and paid for media and religious zealots and greedy, power driven, soulless individuals have purposely kept many misinformed. Your comment says to all of them: job well done! Why propaganda? Keeping emotions high means keeping logic and rationale low. And is a great diversion as well.

PERSUADE the urban voters? In Florida alone, 50K didn't vote, thanks to voter suppression. Democratic votes and WHO was a con man? A vote, be it urban or rural based, isn't a matter of persuasion. It's a CHOICE.

Long ago, I learned the importance of fact checking, again and again. Your comment is precisely why.

Changing the electorial allocation for the states themselves only increases the rural representation. They already get the advantage of the electorial system, where the smaller states get extra votes versus those with larger popultions. We don't need to skew it even more.

If there are more than 2 candidates, the statewide popular vote winner in Nebraska could get a minority of the electoral votes: Say district 1 votes red, with green second; districts 2 and 3 vote blue, with green second; green gets most votes overall. Then you have 2 green electoral votes, 1 red, and 2 blue.

More to the point, even with just 2 candidates Nebraska can—and has—awarded electoral votes to the minority party. In a close election, the swing of an electoral vote or two could decide the presidency.

“Electoral-votes-by-district” could make the electoral vote more closely match the popular vote *if* congressional districts were drawn to give each party a share of representatives closely matching its popular vote share. According to Griff Palmer and Michael Cooper in the New York Times, that’s true in the 25 states where courts, commissions, or divided governments drew the lines. But the 20 states Republicans gerrymandered, and the 5 states Democrats did, each awarded the dominant party some 70% of the seats, with just over 50% of the popular vote.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/us/politics/redistricting-helped-republicans-hold-onto-congress.html?pagewanted=print

The most exciting idea, to make the U.S. electoral vote conform to the will of the people, is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact: several states each enact law stating that if states comprising 270 or more electoral votes do the same, the state will award all its electors to the national popular vote winner. This effectively abolishes the electoral college without a constitutional amendment (which could never pass; small states wouldn’t go for it)—and it’s legal.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Popular_Vote_Interstate_Compact

The idea that small states have more weight in the electoral college doesn’t hold true for the individual voter: Whether you’re in Wyoming or California, your individual vote does not matter: Wyoming *will* go Republican; California *will* go Democrat: you may as well stay home. It’s only the voter in Florida, or Ohio, or Wisconsin, or another knife-edge state, where voters need bother going to the polls to decide the issue. In 2000, the presidency was decided by 537 voters in Florida. The rest of the voters, in the rest of the states, had nugatory input. That’s a perversion of representative government.

One problem with national popular vote is the potential for ballot-box-stuffing in one locale to swing the entire nation. If Chicago submits 50 million votes for its candidate (with 2.7 million population), that candidate will win. Weighting votes by state population might be better. So if Alaska or Deleware or Rhode Island has a weather emergency on election day, and only a few voters turn out, the state still gets its full weight in deciding the president.

More discussion at
http://wcmcoop.com/2012/12/14/republican-gerrymandering-creates-opportunities-for-wisconsin-democrats/

"If each Congressional district has equal weight......
.....it would be clear to many that Republicans were really trying to win in an unfair way."

So says Jay Heck, director of Common Cause Wisconsin.

I'll think on it a bit, but offhand I don't consider it such a bad idea; certainly it is not "unfair" is it? Seems as if it would be more reflective of the voter breakdown in a particular state. So, that's "unfair" --- how?

I financially supported Common Cause for years. But at the local level we started to get this kind of illogical partisan bullsomething.

It would be great if we could set the boundaries of Congressional Districts by some computer algorithm that took into account geography and population, but not race nor socioeconomic factors nor "politics" (party affiliation of the residents or historical voting preferences. That is to say, do the virtual opposite of current practices.