The Public Policy

The Only Prophylactic Against Voter Fraud

Several states have discussed changing their method of allocating electoral votes, much to Democrats' chagrin.

By From the March 2013 issue

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Democrats were recently shocked—shocked—to discover Republican plans to change how states allocate their Electoral College votes.

Just what is this conspiracy against the republic?

Its genesis can be found in the Constitution, which grants the states exclusive control over how their electoral votes are awarded. According to Article II, Section 1, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…”

For the past few years a left-wing group has been planning an end run around the Electoral College, lobbying state legislatures to pass a National Popular Vote compact. Legislatures that agree essentially promise electoral votes not to the candidate who wins their individual states, but to the one who wins the majority of the total votes nationwide.

As the National Popular Vote legislation is written, this change would take effect only once states with a combined Electoral College vote of 270 (the number a candidate needs to win the presidency) have passed the law. How are they doing? Eight states—Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Maine, California, and Hawaii—have passed the law. All were controlled at the time of passage by Democratic governors and state legislatures. Oh, and the District of Columbia, with three Electoral College votes, is also in.

This plan, if implemented, would be a bonanza for vote fraudsters. To take a hypothetical: Today, creating a million fraudulent votes in Chicago would win a candidate only Illinois’ 20 Electoral College votes. Under the National Popular Vote, a candidate could steal 270 electoral votes or more through voter fraud in one city. Colorado’s electoral votes could be won in the counting rooms of Philadelphia or Los Angeles, cities in different time zones where no Colorado poll watchers will be present.

Now, this quiet revolution is fine by Democrats. They like this change. But the liberal establishment is in a huff about another. In an article last year, the leftist Mother Jones called it the “GOP’s Genius Plan” and ruefully added, “That’s not all. There’s no legal way for Democrats to stop them.”

Here’s the “unstoppable” scheme: Forty-eight states currently allocate their electoral votes using a winner-take-all system. The candidate who wins the state receives all of its electors, and the second-place candidate receives zero. But states needn’t keep this system. Among the 25 states currently controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, there are six states that President Obama has carried twice: Florida (29 electors), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Virginia (13), and Wisconsin (10).

In each of the above states, the legislature could pass and the governor could sign a law that, for all future presidential elections, allocates Electoral College votes by congressional district. Two states already assign electoral votes this way. In Maine and Nebraska, the winner of each congressional district gains one electoral vote, and the winner of the state popular vote earns an additional two. (Hence how in 2008, John McCain won four of Nebraska’s five votes, and Obama won one because he carried its 2nd congressional district, which includes Omaha.)

If one assumes that the Republican presidential candidate would win every district held by a GOP congressman, that candidate would start with 17 votes from Florida, 13 from Pennsylvania, 12 from Ohio, nine from Michigan, eight from Virginia, and five from Wisconsin. That’s 64 electoral votes that Democrats won in 2008 and 2012.

One begins to understand why the Democrats are sweating bullets.

The Democratic Party and its allies in the media have expressed horror that other states would follow the same completely constitutional route that many states have taken throughout our history. Virginia originally allocated electoral votes just as Nebraska and Maine do now—but the state legislature switched to winner-take-all to help ensure Thomas Jefferson’s presidential election in 1800.

So why is the left objecting to this modest and healthy reform?

First, Democrats argue that this is a Republican partisan trick. But Nebraska made its change in 1991, and it was signed into law by Democratic governor Ben Nelson (who came to fame later by casting the expensive vote that enacted Obamacare). And Maine? The reform passed in 1969, targeting the 1972 election in which Democratic senator Ed Muskie was expected to be the nominee against Richard Nixon. Both houses of the legislature were controlled by Democrats, and the governor was Democrat Kenneth Curtis.

The Democrats made a play to change the rules in Florida in 1991, led by Florida’s Democratic governor, the hyper-partisan Lawton Chiles, who announced, “It’s just basically fairer.” The Associated Press reported that the proposal was “already drawing fire from legislative Republicans, who see it as a maneuver to break the GOP stranglehold on presidential elections in Florida.” Democrats had carried the state only twice in the previous 40 years.

So Democrats have been responsible for driving this reform in the past. Might they benefit from it today? Not really. Democrats control only one state that tends to vote Republican for president: West Virginia, which has three congressional districts. Democrats could probably win only one additional electoral vote if they made the Nebraska/Maine change in the Mountain State.

Moving red states to the Maine/Nebraska model is neither unprecedented nor partisan. It was a Democratic idea to start with. Liberals reach for the smelling salts for the same reason they hate Voter ID and all other efforts to stop voter fraud. If there were no voter fraud, Democrats would not care if there were plenty of poll watchers, or accurate lists of real live voters, or cross-checks of the voter rolls to remove doubles or triples.

The Maine/Nebraska model doesn’t stop voter fraud. But it does drastically reduce its value. Under the current system, if an enterprising local party boss could create a few thousand fraudulent votes in one party district deep in Philadelphia or St. Louis or Detroit, far from the prying eyes of Republican poll watchers, it might be enough to win the state. The risk of getting caught is low compared to the value of 16 or 20 electoral votes.

But if electoral votes were apportioned by congressional district, what would be gained by manufacturing votes in Philadelphia’s first or second districts? They are already overwhelmingly Democratic. Winning the statewide popular vote would only be worth an additional two electors. The ratio of risk to reward for voter fraud falls dramatically.

The courts have slowed and even stopped efforts to limit voter fraud, curb absentee ballot abuse, and clean up voter rolls. But in Electoral College reform, Republicans have an opportunity that is much more difficult to block. Mother Jones spoke the truth: “There’s no legal way for Democrats to stop them.”

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About the Author

Grover G. Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform.