On Friday January 25, a spokesman for Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell publicly stated that the Governor opposes the bill put forth by a member of the state GOP to change the way Virginia allocates its electoral votes in Presidential elections. As the Washing Post notes, Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all have state representatives who are considering changing the way their states award their electoral votes. Unsurprisingly, these are all states that republicans control on the state level, despite them going for Barack Obama in the last two Presidential elections.
The plan currently being proposed in Virginia would award each candidate one electoral vote for each congressional district they win the plurality of votes in. The issue with this proposal is not only that this is clearly a political move to strengthen the republican presidential candidate in 2016 and beyond, but also in most states the job of redistricting every 10 years is performed by the legislature instead of by courts or nonpartisan bodies. The issue of redistricting, and specifically the issue of gerrymandering, has stayed out of the mainstream political dialogue, even though it has clearly led to more partisan and extreme politics. Allowing this often dubious practice of drawing up congressional districts based on political motives to change the rules of the presidential election not only seems unethical, but it could also hurt republicans politically just as the divisive voter ID issue likely did in 2012.
Most people who are not motivated by political factors seem to think that if the electoral college is going to be changed to make each vote equal in value, it should be decided by a straightforward popular vote. Although the popular vote idea seems to be slowly building some momentum, those who support it seem to ignore the practical effects that would have, and ignore the reason the founding fathers included in the first place.
Although for some the electoral college was ideal because of the prevalence of slavery in the south (which would have weakened the south politically, because slaves couldn’t vote), for others the electoral college was a way to prevent smaller states from becoming irrelevant in Presidential election. Some of those who oppose the electoral college will rightly point out that a handful of swing states have essentially made the rest of the states irrelevant in Presidential elections, so the system doesn’t work. The problem with this argument is that the reason these states are important are that they have a very close ratio of voting republicans to voting democrats.
The founding fathers were fearful of big government and the ways in which it would exercise power, but they were also aware of the way rash excesses of emotion-fueled populism could weaken this nation’s governing institutions. If elections were purely popular vote, presidential nominees would have to focus more on energizing their base and pandering to their regional strongholds, instead of having to be concerned with what more moderate voters in moderate states think. If Republican candidates only focused on trying to get of the vote in the deep south and in tornado alley, and Democratic candidates only focused on the West and the Northeastern seaboard, one can only imagine how much worse the already paralyzing partisan rhetoric would get.