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The GOP’s New Voter Suppression Strategy: Gerrymander the Electoral College | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

The GOP’s New Voter Suppression Strategy: Gerrymander the Electoral College

For a brief time in the fall of 2011, Pennsylvania GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi unveiled a plan to deliver the bulk of his state’s electoral votes to Mitt Romney. Pileggi wanted Pennsylvania to award its electoral votes not via the winner-take-all system in place in forty-eight states but instead based on the winner of each Congressional district. Republicans, by virtue of controlling the redistricting process, held thirteen of eighteen congressional seats in Pennsylvania following the 2012 election. If Pileggi’s plan would have been in place on November 6, 2012, Romney would’ve captured thirteen of Pennsylvania’s twenty Electoral College votes, even though Obama carried the state with 52 percent of the vote.

In the wake of Romney’s defeat and the backfiring of GOP voter suppression efforts, Pileggi is resurrecting his plan (albeit in a slightly different form) and the idea of gerrymandering the Electoral College to boost the 2016 GOP presidential candidate is spreading to other GOP-controlled battleground states that Obama carried, like Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Thanks to big gains at the state legislative level in 2010, Republicans controlled the redistricting process in twenty states compared to seven for Democrats, drawing legislative and Congressional maps that will benefit their party for the next decade. (The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that Republicans picked up six additional House seats in 2012 due to redistricting.) Republicans now want to extend their redistricting advantage to the presidential realm.

Pileggi’s plan, if implemented in all of the battleground states where Republicans held a majority of House seats, would’ve handed the White House to Romney. According to Think Progress:

Assuming that Mitt Romney won every congressional district that elected a Republican House candidate in these key states, the Corbett/Husted (named after the Pennsylvania governor and Ohio secretary of state) plan would have given Romney 17 electoral votes in Florida, 9 in Michigan, 12 in Ohio, 13 in Pennsylvania, 8 in Virginia, and 5 in Wisconsin—for a total of 64 additional electoral votes.

Add those 64 votes to the 206 votes Romney won legitimately, and it adds up to exactly 270—the amount he needed to win the White House.

According to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, Republicans currently hold the majority of House seats in thirty states, compared to seventeen for Democrats, giving them a big advantage in any bid to rig the Electoral College.

Take a look at Virginia, where State Senator Charles “Bill” Carrico Sr. introduced legislation to award his state’s electoral votes based on the winner of each Congressional district. Here’s what that would mean, reports ThinkProgress:

With a Republican-controlled redistricting passed earlier this year, Virginia Democrats were heavily packed into three districts. Under these maps, Obama won Virginia by almost a 4 point margin, yet he carried just four Virginia Congressional Districts. Were Carrico’s scheme in place, Mitt Romney would have received seven of Virginia’s 11 electoral votes despite receiving just 47.28% of the vote statewide.

Or take a look at Ohio, where controversial Secretary of State Jon Husted briefly voiced support for a similar plan following the 2012 election. Obama won Ohio by three points, but Republicans control twelve of eighteen congressional seats there, meaning that Romney would’ve netted more electoral votes than Obama if Husted had his way.

The GOP supported voter suppression efforts in 2012 as a way to make the electorate older, whiter and more conservative. But that push backfired when opponents of voter suppression turned out in large numbers for Obama, cementing an electorate that was younger and more diverse than in 2008. The shifting demographics of the country indicate that Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant” will only grow in size in future elections. So Republicans are searching for new ways to dilute the influence of Democratic voters.

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Will the GOP’s bid to gerrymander the Electoral College be more successful now than it was last election cycle? Let’s hope not. Pileggi’s plan divided Pennsylvania Republicans and ultimately went nowhere. Husted had to quickly backtrack from his statements due to the national uproar. Here’s an idea for Republicans: instead of diluting the votes of your opposition, how about supporting policies—like immigration reform and a more equitable distribution of taxes—that will win you more votes from a growing chunk of the electorate?

And here’s another idea for both parties: instead of gerrymandering the Electoral College, how about abolishing it altogether?

The election is over, but the fight to protect voting rights isn't. Check out our coverage of the challenge to the Voting Rights Act.

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