Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Spring 2013 Intern

Barack Obama has just been sworn in for a second term and already the Republican National Committee is looking ahead to 2016. Last week, Committee Chairman Reince Priebus urged governors and state legislators to consider Electoral College reform, by allocating electoral votes by congressional district as opposed to the winner-take-all system. Currently, a state’s total electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote. However Priebus’s proposed plan reflects the current system in Maine and Nebraska, where votes would be allocated by congressional district and the candidate who wins statewide popular vote receives the final two at-large votes.

While Priebus’s plan is not the first priority for state legislatures, which are focusing on more important economic issues, it is gaining some support from Republican leaders and they are growing more open to the idea of supporting bill. They feel that the GOP would benefit from the change and would be fairer to their voter base, since conservative voters are dispersed throughout more rural, sparsely-populated areas.

To understand how this proposal could alter election results, FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy lays out the possible scenarios for the reform and analyzed how the proposed plan would have impacted the outcome of the 2012 election.

In November, President Obama won with a 5-million popular vote margin and 126 Electoral College votes. However, if the electoral votes had been allocated by Congressional district in Pennsylvania, President Obama’s 5.4% percent popular vote lead would only have earned him 12 electoral votes instead of all 20. The eight-vote difference doesn’t seem like much, but on a national scale the loss of a few electoral votes in every state would make a substantial difference in the outcome. If the plan had been in place for the last election it would have resulted in the narrowest possible win for Obama: 270-268. However, the system would guarantee electoral votes from each state, so Democratic candidates would get a boost from traditionally more conservative states like Florida, and Republicans would gain votes from states like New York.

Voter Disenfranchisement

Though the topic is becoming an increasingly partisan issue, there is also the concern about the possibility of voter disenfranchisement in the proposed changes. If enacted, the proposal could dramatically alter future presidential elections, by giving rural and sparsely-populated districts a disproportionate amount power to determine the outcome. Densely-populated areas tend to be restricted to one or two congressional districts, so even if a candidate wins the state’s popular vote, it may not be reflected in the electoral vote distribution.

Moreover, immigrant and minority communities, including Arab Americans,  tend to be highly concentrated in big cities, with little representation in rural areas. States with some of the largest Arab American populations, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, would also be impacted by the implementation of Priebus’s plan due to gerrymandering.

Reince Priebus’s idea for Electoral College reform is still in its infant stages, but Republican majorities in state legislatures and their disappointment with national election outcomes could provide the motivation for legislative action.

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