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GOP may revive plan to influence Electoral College

Tuesday's state-level wins are tempting Republicans to revive a brazen scheme to sway the Electoral College in their favor.
Citizens go to the cast their ballots at the city hall building on election day on Nov. 4, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisc.
Citizens go to the cast their ballots at the city hall building on election day on Nov. 4, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisc.

For some Republicans, making it harder for Democratic-leaning groups to vote isn’t enough. They also want to give themselves an undemocratic leg up in the Electoral College. 

The GOP’s wins last week in statehouses across the country are tempting conservatives to revive a plan to sway the Electoral College in their favor by dividing up their Electoral Votes (EVs) rather than giving them all to the popular vote winner. The result would be to make it much more likely that Republicans could win the White House while losing the popular vote nationally.

Several Republican-controlled states have flirted with the idea in recent years before backing off, appearing to calculate that the political controversy the move would stir up would outweigh the upside. But Tuesday’s sweeping GOP wins, the intensifying polarization of our politics, and the party’s recent struggles in presidential elections could put it back on the agenda.

An article Friday by Jim Geraghty of National Review, a leading opinion-shaper for conservatives, floated moving forward with the plan in several states -- Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and Nevada -- where Republicans will have total control next year*. Doing so would make it “nearly impossible for the Democratic nominee to win,” Geraghty wrote. A map in the article shows much of the midwest, including Democratic strongholds like Michigan and Illinois, colored red. A caption below the map calls the idea "pretty tempting."  

And an op-ed the same day in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call by Rob Richie and Claire Daviss of Fairvote, a good government group, also suggested it could happen.

Here’s how the scheme would work: Republican-controlled states that have lately gone blue in presidential elections would pass legislation that changes the way the state divvies up its electoral college votes. Instead of all going to the winner of the popular vote, they’d instead be allocated based on the winner of each congressional district, in most versions of the plan. Or, they could be split up in proportion to the popular vote in the state—so if a candidate gets 48% of the vote, he gets 48% of the electoral votes.

Consider how that would have played out in 2012. If electoral votes had been allocated according to congressional districts in Republican-controlled states that voted for President Obama, Mitt Romney would have won 70 more EVs than he actually did. He’d have gotten 18 out of 23 in Pennsylvania, 17 out of 29 in Florida, 12 out of 18 in Ohio, 9 out of 14 in Virginia, 9 out of 16 in Michigan, and 5 out of 10 in Wisconsin. Under the current system, he won zero in those states. (Virginia is now off the table, because it has a Democratic governor, who would never sign on to the plan.)

Republicans have portrayed the plan as a way to address the fact that many voters in these states, especially in rural areas, feel their vote doesn’t matter under the winner-take-all system of allocating EVs. And there’s nothing unconstitutional about it: Nebraska and Maine already allocate their EVs by congressional district, but those states are small enough that it doesn’t matter much.

Richie of Fairvote said Pennsylvania could be the most likely to act. That’s because its Republican governor, Tom Corbett, was just voted out of office, so he might see little political downside to moving forward with the scheme in the lame-duck session. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is a key backer of the idea. He proposed allocating EVs by congressional district in 2011. After that plan fizzled, Pileggi introduced legislation last year that would have divided EVs by popular vote share.

“This would be the time to do it,” said Richie. “The temptation’s there.”

A spokesman for Pileggi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from msnbc.

Michigan, where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder just won re-election, may be another likely candidate. Last year, delegates to the state GOP convention voted overwhelmingly in favor of dividing EVs by congressional district.

Susan Demas, the editor of "Inside Michigan Politics," wrote recently that a combination of political factors mean there’s a decent chance the party could push forward with the scheme sooner rather than later.

Demas told msnbc that the GOP has passed controversial legislation during past lame-duck sessions. In 2012, they rammed through an anti-union right-to-work bill -- and didn't pay any political price. In fact, on Tuesday they increased their majority in the state legislature.

"I don't think anybody sees that there's a cost to it," Demas said.

One factor that could stand in the way, however, not just in Michigan but everywhere: By dividing up their EVs, states would make themselves far less important in presidential elections, meaning they’d get less attention from campaigns. So state leaders would need to explain to voters why they were reducing their state’s clout in national politics.

Of course, progressives have their own changes to the electoral college that they’d like to make—though these would make the system more, not less, democratic. Under the National Popular Vote plan, all participating states give their EVs to the popular vote winner. The plan would go into effect when adopted by states representing a majority of EVs—ensuring that the candidate who gets the most votes nationwide wins the election. It's currently 61% of the way to activation.

CORRECTION: Citing an article in National Review, this post originally reported that Iowa is among the states where Republicans will have full control next year. In fact, the state Senate is controlled by Democrats.