If votes in every state were awarded by congressional district, President-elect Romney would be planning his inauguration right now.
According to the Cook Political Report, Mitt Romney won about 52 percent of the congressional districts.
Currently, all states except for Maine and Nebraska award electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis. Long-term, that looks like a worrisome trend for the GOP. Several formerly red strongholds, including Georgia and Arizona, are becoming more Democratic. Still, demographics are not destiny and if Republicans succeed in winning over more Hispanics than they have in recent years, for instance, these states could well remain red.
If states stop awarding votes on a winner-take-all basis, Republicans could also win — and without necessarily getting more votes. Determining Electoral College voting by congressional districts represents one obvious opportunity for Republicans: In that scenario, the effect of urban Democratic strongholds (such as those Philadelphia precincts where Obama was supported by 99 percent of voters) would be isolated. Instead of shifting the entire state’s electoral votes, those precincts would only influence their congressional districts.
Fair Vote, an organization that advocates switching the presidential-election process to a national popular vote, analyzed six possible new scenarios in six swing states that went blue this year despite having Republican state legislatures and governors. (They were Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Florida.) In two of the scenarios — proportional and a slight variation on proportional — Obama still would have won, despite the proportional awarding of votes in those six states.
But if votes had been awarded by congressional districts, Romney would have won in two of three scenarios. In the first situation, in which most of the electoral votes were awarded based on congressional-district outcomes but two of them were given to the candidate who had won the most votes overall in the state, Obama narrowly edged out Romney, with 270 votes to Romney’s 268. But in the other two scenarios — in which two electoral votes were awarded proportionally, or to whichever candidate had won the most congressional districts (not votes) — Romney would have won. In the first case, the final national electoral count would have been 274 for Romney and 264 for Obama; in the second, 280 for Romney and 258 for Obama.
In other words, if 44 states and D.C. kept their policies exactly the same, Republican state legislators in these particular six states could still succeed in paving a much easier path for a GOP presidential candidate by changing the way electoral votes are awarded.
Whether there is genuine — and sustainable — interest in doing that is another matter. According to Michigan-based Gownger News Service, state representative Peter Lund, a Republican, will re-introduce this year in the state legislature his bill to award electoral votes by congressional district. In Pennsylvania in December, state senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi said he wants to start distributing the electoral votes proportionally. “Senior Republicans say they will try to leverage their party’s majorities in Democratic-leaning states in an effort to end the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes,” National Journal’s Reid Wilson reported last month. ”Instead, bills that will be introduced in several Democratic states would award electoral votes on a proportional basis.”
Another way Republicans could overcome their disadvantage, as the number of red states shrinks, would be to embrace the national popular vote. Having a national popular vote would lead to entirely different campaigns — think far fewer stops in Ohio, and far more in partisan strongholds like California and Texas — which could potentially swing voters who are more inclined to thoughtlessly vote the party line when they perceive their vote as not counting. Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP chair and a consultant to the National Popular Vote organization, argues that switching the system to a popular vote would also make it significantly harder to commit fraud that would swing presidential elections. Instead of having to affect tens of thousands of votes in a swing state, he observes, the candidate would now have to fraudulently obtain millions of votes across the country.
Whether it’s politically prudent for Republicans to push any of these measures is unclear, much less whether it’s a good idea on principle. But for those frustrated over 2012’s results, it might be worth thinking about whether it’s time to overhaul the system itself.