To be elected president or vice president of the United States requires a total of at least 270 votes in the Electoral College. Through the strategic spending of other people’s money, especially among minority populations in our major urban areas, Democrats have fashioned an electoral map that gives them a relatively firm base of 22 blue states with a combined total of 257 of the needed 270 electoral votes. Of the remaining 281 electoral votes, they only have to pick up 13 in order to elect a president and a vice president.
Republicans, on the other hand, have a firm base of 23 red states with a combined total of 191 electoral votes, leaving a total of 6 swing states… Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia… with a combined total of 90 electoral votes. In order for a Republican to win in 2016, and beyond, he/she must carry all 23 of the red states, plus at least five of the six swing states. They could afford to lose either Colorado’s 9 electoral votes or Iowa’s 6 electoral votes, but not all 15. To lose both Colorado and Iowa, while carrying Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia would leave them with a total of just 266 electoral votes, four short of an electoral majority. It appears to be a nearly insurmountable obstacle for Republicans, but is it?
With a bit of foresight and strategic planning, Republicans could do a great deal between now and November 2016 to mitigate the Democrats’ electoral advantage. In a December 7, 2012 column, titled, Real Electoral College Reform, I analyzed what would happen to the political balance of power in the United States if all 50 states were to adopt the Maine-Nebraska method for allocating electoral votes.
In the Electoral College, each of the 50 states are allotted two at-large electoral votes, one for each of their two U.S. senators, and one vote for each of the state’s congressional districts. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the winner of the popular vote in each state takes all of the state’s electoral votes. In Maine and Nebraska, however, the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote is allotted that state’s two at-large electoral votes, while the remainder of the electoral votes are allocated based on the winner of the popular vote within each of the state’s congressional districts.
If the Maine-Nebraska formula had been in effect in all 50 states in 2012, and assuming that the vote for the presidential candidates of each party would roughly approximate the votes for the congressional candidates of the respective parties in each congressional district, Obama would have lost 115 of his 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney in the twenty-six states, plus DC, in which he won a majority of the popular vote. On the other hand, in the twenty-four red states carried by Romney-Ryan, they would have lost only 39 electoral votes to Obama-Biden.
The end result? In 2012, instead of a 332 to 206 vote victory for Obama-Biden in the Electoral College, the Maine-Nebraska system would have produced a comfortable 282 to 256 vote victory for Romney-Ryan, an outcome that would have been far closer to expressing the will of the people than the present winner-take-all system.
To understand this phenomenon one need only look at the county-by-county electoral map of the United States with the counties colored either red or blue. It is reflective of: a) the preference for Republican principles among a substantial majority of the people, and b) the overwhelming size of the vote for the Democratic “sugar daddy” in the inner city precincts. The electoral process is disproportionately skewed by the fact that, in the heavily-populated inner-city precincts, the vote is nearly always 95-110% for Democratic candidates, while in the suburbs and the rural areas the vote is nearly always within the 60-40 range, one party over the other.
If it is true that “all politics is local,” as the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill once remarked, then to replace the current winner-take-all system with the Maine-Nebraska electoral system would help to bring political decision-making much closer to the people because of the increased interest generated in local and congressional elections.
The Maine-Nebraska electoral system would deemphasize the key battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia and require candidates to campaign in all fifty states. As matters now stand, presidential candidates spend little time in states such as California, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas because the outcome of presidential voting in those states is almost always a foregone conclusion. Had the Maine-Nebraska system been in place for the 2012 General Election, Obama would have found it necessary to defend the 15 votes that Romney could have won in California and the 6 votes he could have won in New York, while Romney could not have ignored the 12 electoral votes that Obama might have captured in Texas.
Liberals and Democrats are notorious for expressing appreciation for whatever they see as being most “democratic.” But is there a chance that Democrats in the bluest of blue states… such as California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon… would agree to such a reform once they figured out that the Maine-Nebraska system would cause them to lose a significant number of electoral votes to Republicans, and that the Maine-Nebraska system would all but guarantee that no Democrat could be elected president or vice president for many years to come? Among liberals and Democrats, when it come to a choice between what is best for the country and what is best for their party, the country will always come out on the “short end of the stick.”
So, while we cannot expect to ever see an electoral system in which all 50 states utilize the Maine-Nebraska formula, is there something that can be done now to level the playing field a bit? The answer is yes, and it can easily be accomplished in advance of the 2016 General Election. Here’s what must be done:
At the present time, there are 11 states with a total of 139 electoral votes that were carried by Barack Obama in 2012 which now have Republican governors. Of those 11 states, the states of Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin now enjoy Republican majorities in both houses of their legislatures. What this means is that, if the governors and legislative leaders in those 5 states understood what could be accomplished, they would take immediate steps to repeal the winner-take-all electoral system and adopt the Maine-Nebraska system. With Republican majorities in both houses of their legislatures, Democrats would be powerless to stop them.
Even if Democrats should win the popular vote in each of those 5 states in 2016, as they did in 2012, the Maine-Nebraska formula would create a much different scenario than the winner-take-all system: Instead of winning all 29 of Florida’s electoral votes, Democrats would win 12 and Republicans would win 17; instead of winning all 16 of Michigan’s electoral votes, Democrats would win 7 votes and Republicans would win 9; instead of winning all 6 of Nevada’s electoral votes, Democrats would win 3 and Republicans would win 3; instead of winning all 18 of Ohio’s electoral votes, Democrats would win 6 and Republicans would win 12; and instead of winning all 10 of Wisconsin’s electoral votes, Democrats would win 5 and Republicans would win 5.
Applying these totals to the expected blue state and red state totals, the Democrats’ expected advantage would increase from 257 electoral votes to 258, while the Republican disadvantage would move from 191 electoral votes to 237. As matters now stand, Democrats have to take only 13 (14%) of the 90 swing state votes while Republicans have to take 79 (88%) in order to win the presidency. On the other hand, if Republicans in those 5 states were to adopt the Maine-Nebraska system in the current legislative sessions, Democrats would have to take 12 (28%) of the remaining 43 swing state votes to win, while Republicans would have to take 33 (76%) of the remaining 43. Taking 76% of 43 votes is easier than taking 88% of 90 votes.
But what if many of the low-information Obama voters in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin decide to stay home in November 2016, giving Republicans popular vote victories in all 5 states? After 8 years of disastrous Obama-Biden-Clinton-style governance, it is a distinct possibility. Under that scenario, Republicans could put another 10 electoral votes in their column. Democrats would have 248 electoral votes and Republicans 247 electoral votes before the 43 electoral votes of Colorado (9), Iowa (6), North Carolina (15), and Virginia (13) were won or lost. Democrats would have to win 22 (51%) of the remaining 43 swing state votes, while Republicans would have to win 23 (53%). The playing field would be substantially leveled.
However, in order to greatly increase their chances of victory, Republicans should not hesitate to target Minnesota, with 10 electoral votes; New Hampshire, with 4 electoral votes; New Mexico, with 5 electoral votes; and Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes… all winner-take-all states, and all states that Obama carried with less than 53% of the vote in 2012. After eight years of Obama-Biden, at least 5% of the good people in those four states should be anxious for a change.
In the meantime, those readers who live in the states of Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Michigan might wish to place copies of this analysis into the hands of their governors and their legislative leaders. With seven states utilizing the Maine-Nebraska system we may witness the beginning of a trend as other blue states follow suit. The question is, do Republican leaders in Washington and in the state capitals have the political sense to recognize the advantage they enjoy? Given their past history, we know that they are not always quick to act when political advantage falls into their laps. It may be necessary to lean on them a bit.
Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College. He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.