Inside conservatives’ Hail Mary plan to win the presidency forever

Nobody likes the Electoral College. But long-rumored plans to transform it could give Republicans a lasting advantage in presidential politics. Here’s how it would have sent Mitt Romney to the Oval Office in 2012.

2012 voting results based on U.S. Congressional districts

2012 Electoral College votes

Republican votes
Democrat votes

Current system

Proposed method

It’s one of those open secrets you learn in high school government class: You don’t vote for president. That honor goes to 538 members of the Electoral College, the constitutionally mandated system that apportions a certain number of votes to each state according to its population. It’s why savvy presidential hopefuls (basically all of them, minus Trump) don’t bother stumping in one-sided states like California, New York, and Texas.

But many of the same Republican politicians who’ve gerrymandered local districts to game congressional elections are now trying to eliminate Democrats’ big Electoral College advantages. Their plan would nullify liberal gains in heavily populated blue states that have grown more racially and ethnically diverse. That plan is the “congressional district method.”

Since the 1830s, most U.S. states have awarded their electoral votes as “winner take all” — whoever wins the popular vote in that state snatches up all its EVs. That’s given Democrats a built-in advantage, known as the “blue wall”: 242 electoral votes from states that consistently trend blue. But in recent years, Republicans from Scott Walker to Reince Priebus have tried to change the system so that presidential candidates get one electoral vote for winning the popular vote in an individual congressional district in each state. It’s a quirky system that only Maine and Nebraska have adopted.

GOP legislators have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to implement the scheme in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, and Wisconsin — all states that trend blue in presidential elections, but lean red on the state level. As Fusion shows in its investigative documentary, Rigged, many of those same states have already redrawn their congressional districts to disproportionately favor Republicans (with mixed success withstanding court challenges). So instead of a Dem winning all those states’ EVs, a Republican presidential hopeful could grab enough to score a surprise victory — popular vote be damned.

A Fusion analysis of the 2012 presidential race, detailed in the map above, shows that if all states switched from winner-take-all to the congressional-district method, Mitt Romney would have won the presidency by 10 EVs, even though he lost the overall popular ballot by 5 million votes. (Barack Obama won the 2012 popular vote by a margin of 5 million and the Electoral College by 126 EVs, which qualifies as a landslide these days.)

Of course, the Electoral College debate cuts both ways. In an earlier era, Democrats sought to implement the congressional district method in tight states, like Colorado, that they were consistently losing. And Republicans in uber-red Nebraska recently tried to jettison the congressional-district method in favor of winner take all, to make it harder for a Dem to pick up any EVs in liberal Omaha’s district — a feat Barack Obama managed in 2008.

But given the relative growth of communities of color in America, conservative Republicans stand to lose the most from the current Electoral College system — and to stay competitive, they’re likelier to rejigger that system than modernize their platform. If you can’t win over voters, why not rig the vote?

... And play the game!

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