Downsize the Liberals

Downsize the Liberals
May 3, 2013

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at The Heartland Institute, a... (read full bio)

Washington state is conservative, except for Seattle, which delivers the entire state’s electoral votes for the most left-wing plausible candidate every four years.

The same is true of Oregon, except for Portland. Pennsylvania has been described as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between. But Philadelphia sometimes delivers more votes for the Democrats than the city’s population, and the entire state’s electoral votes for leftism as well. And where would California be politically without San Francisco and Los Angeles?

In fact, the result of the 2012 presidential election was changed by allowing urban areas with a 90% liberal/left vote to determine the electoral vote outcome for entire states, rather than just for their areas. But that can and should be changed.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the Electoral College for selecting Presidents, provides that the electors shall be chosen by each state “in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct …” The legislatures of Maine and Nebraska have used that clause to provide that the electors in their states shall be determined by majority vote in each congressional district, rather than by the majority vote statewide.

So if a state has three congressional districts, and the Democrat candidate for president wins the majority in two of them, and the Republican candidate wins the majority in one of them, then the state’s electoral votes go two for the Democrat and one for the Republican, rather than all for the Democrat as under the current statewide majority system. California has 53 congressional districts, 38 of them held by Democrats and 15 held by Republicans. Under congressional district majority voting for presidential electors, the Republican candidate for president would likely gain at least 15 electoral votes from California. Under the current statewide majority system, all of the state’s electoral votes would go to the Democrat. .

If congressional district majority voting were adopted in Washington state, the people of Seattle would determine the presidential electoral vote from Seattle, not from the entire state. In Oregon, the people of Portland would determine the presidential electoral vote only for Portland, not for the rest of the state as well. In Pennsylvania, the people of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would choose the presidential electoral from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, not from Alabama as well.

That would be true democracy. People should be able to vote for the presidential electors from their areas, not elsewhere throughout a state. Under the current system, millions and millions of Americans are disenfranchised by the current winner-take-all statewide electoral vote determination. For example, those in Maryland outside of Baltimore have no say at all in the presidential election, because the voters in Baltimore that almost uniformly vote Democrat and liberal/left will always determine the state majority. Under a congressional district selection method, by contrast, Maryland residents outside of Baltimore would be empowered to effectively vote for president too. The same is true for people in Illinois outside of Chicago. Or New York outside of New York City. Or California outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles. And elsewhere across the country.

Why should people in these politically and ideologically intolerant urban areas determine who the presidential electors are for people outside their urban areas? There is no good reason.

Each state currently has a number of electoral votes equal to the number of congressional districts in the state plus two more for the senators.  All go today to the candidate who wins the majority vote in the state.  But under congressional district majority elector selection, those two additional electoral votes for each state should go to whoever wins the majority of congressional districts in the state. Every citizen of every state would then have an equal say of who wins the state’s electoral votes.

If just the six states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which now have Republican legislatures and governors, had switched for 2012 to choosing presidential electors by congressional district majorities, rather than by statewide majorities, Mitt Romney rather than Barack Obama would be president today. In California, the change can be made by public vote through the Initiative process. That would have produced more electoral votes for the Republican ticket in 2012 as well.

That change has a chance to win by public vote in California, and be adopted in other less Republican areas elsewhere as well, because the people there, and all across America, are tired of the presidential campaigns only being held in a handful of “battleground” states. If the presidential electors are chosen by congressional district majorities instead of statewide majorities, presidential campaigns would again be conducted nationwide, reopening our democracy to everyone.

There is no opportunity for Democrat-controlled states to retaliate by switching to congressional district majority voting as well. Democrat-controlled states would likely produce a Democrat statewide majority in presidential elections. But the electoral vote from any Republican congressional district in such states would probably go for the Republican presidential candidate under congressional district majority voting. That would produce some electoral votes for the Republican candidate in such Democrat-controlled states, while the Republican candidate would receive no electoral votes from those states under the current statewide majority voting system. The switch to determining presidential electoral votes by congressional district would always on net favor Republicans because it would take away the power of the more uniform Democrat vote concentrated in urban areas to determine the presidential vote for their entire states, rather than just for their own urban areas.

Another benefit of the change is that it would also mean the end of voter fraud, or at least a much more limited impact from such fraud. No point in pumping up the vote in Philadelphia if it can only affect the presidential electoral vote from Philadelphia, which is never in doubt any way. Chicago could no longer pull out the election for Kennedy over Nixon, by producing whatever votes are required for that at the last second. This too would greatly improve our democracy, with a truer vote.

Legislation providing for such reform more broadly has already begun to be introduced. Two years ago in Pennsylvania, the Republican state senate president, Robert Pileggi, introduced such a bill with the governor’s support. Progress stalled because Republicans were overconfident that they would take all of the state’s electoral votes from Obama in 2012. 

Virginia state senator Charles W. Carrico, Sr., from southwest Virginia, has introduced similar legislation more recently, saying voters in his district were discouraged they had no say in presidential elections because of Northern Virginia’s growing dominance.  Such grassroots reform efforts have also popped up in Florida and Michigan.

For all of the above reasons, switching to determination of presidential electoral votes by congressional district majorities rather than the current statewide majorities would be a good government reform that should be promoted by the grassroots across the entire country.

[First published at the American Spectator]

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at The Heartland Institute, a... (read full bio)