Changing the Rules by David Atkins

Changing the Rules
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

If the GOP is looking to ignite riots and a 2nd American civil war, this would be one way to do it:

Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania are pushing a scheme that, if GOPers in other states follow their lead, could cause President Barack Obama to lose the 2012 election—not because of the vote count, but because of new rules. That's not all: there's no legal way for Democrats to stop them...

Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)

This could cost Obama dearly. The GOP controls both houses of the state legislature plus the governor's mansion—the so-called "redistricting trifecta"—in Pennsylvania. Congressional district maps are adjusted after every census, and the last one just finished up. That means Pennsylvania Republicans get to draw the boundaries of the state's congressional districts without any input from Democrats. Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.

Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for carrying the state. This would have an effect equivalent to flipping a small winner-take-all state—say, Nevada, which has six electoral votes—from blue to red. And Republicans wouldn't even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.

Nebraska and Maine already have the system the Pennsylvania GOP is pushing. But the two states' small electoral vote values mean it's actually mathematically impossible for a candidate to win the popular vote there but lose the electoral vote, says Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional law professor at Yale University. Pennsylvania, however, is a different story: "It might be very likely to happen in [Pennsylvania], and that's what makes this something completely new under the sun," Amar says. "It's something that no previous legislature in America since the Civil War has ever had the audacity to impose."

And it's not just Pennsylvania.

It doesn't necessarily end there. After their epic sweep of state legislative and gubernatorial races in 2010, Republicans also have total political control of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, three other big states that traditionally go Democratic and went for Obama in 2012. Implementing a Pennsylvania-style system in those three places—in Ohio, for example, Democrats anticipate controlling just 4 or 5 of the state's 16 congressional districts—could offset Obama wins in states where he has expanded the electoral map, like Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, or New Mexico. "If all these rust belt folks get together and make this happen that could be really dramatic," says Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which coordinates state political races for the Dems.

Democrats would not be able to retaliate. The only states that John McCain won where Dems control both houses of the state legislature are Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia. West Virginia is too small for splitting the electoral votes to have much effect, and Mississippi has a Republican governor. That leaves Arkansas, another small state—and one where McCain won every district handily in 2008.

For now, the Democrats'—and Obama's—only real way of fighting back is political. "The political solution if there is one is going to have to come from getting people outraged about this," Amar says. "This is not American fair play, it's a partisan steamroller changing the fundamental rules of the small-d democratic game for purely party advantage. Trying to structure the world so that even the person who wins the state loses the state's electoral vote: that is new under the sun." He adds, "This is big."

The article is actually incorrect on one point: there is a way for cooler heads to fight back from a legal perspective, and that way is to push for the National Popular Vote act to be ratified in states totaling at least 271 electoral votes.

But beyond that, the Republicans know their goose is cooked long-term, from a demographic perspective. Most of the tea party and Fox News base will be gone or senile within a generation. With Latino population growth and unabated GOP racism, Texas will be a blue state within 10-15 years or even sooner. That by itself spells doom for the Republicans at the Presidential level as they are currently constituted. Congress won't be quite as problematic for them and yes, it's true as I have argued before that that doesn't mean permanent majorities for Democrats in a binary system. But the basic demographics do make the road that much tougher for Republicans to take the White House now and on into the future.

Increasingly, the GOP is going to need to turn to blatantly dishonest gimmicks like this to remain viable at a presidential level. But there's a big problem.

If the GOP-controlled "blue states" do this, and if President Obama wins the popular vote by a few million votes and would have won the election under the current rules but "loses" to Rick Perry under the GOP rules, I can practically guarantee mass civil disobedience. It would ignite hot flashes in what is already a cold civil war. In 2000 Democrats took the theft of the election lying down, mostly because the 1990s had been a fairly comical time politically speaking, political tensions except among the activist classes didn't run nearly as high as they do today, and even most Democrats figured that Bush wouldn't be so bad. The sort of acquiescence we saw in 2000 won't happen again. It would be the beginning of the end of the current system.

Unfortunately, the only thing scarier than contemplating riots and a potential 2nd civil war, is what the reaction of a President Rick Perry would be to such a scenario. You don't exactly have to guess.