Opinion: How the Republicans are trying to win the 2008 presidential election

A prominent Republican lawyer is trying to put a ballot to the vote in California which would mean the presidential votes of California in 2008 would distributed by district rather than by state. This would practically destroy the Democrats’ chances of an easy victory, and give the Republicans approximately an extra 20 votes (the same as the state of Ohio).

For anyone not familliar with the strange workings of American politics this is because, in a general presidential election, it is not the candidate who gets the most votes who wins the election, but who gets the most states.

Each state has a number of votes based on the population of that state – with California being the biggest – and whichever candidate gets the most votes in that state wins all of that state’s presidential votes. If this was changed in a state like California, which practically always votes Democrat (balancing out a state like Texas always voting Republican), instead of all the votes going to the Democrats some would go to the Republican candidate as well.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m all in favour of electoral reform in America so that presidents are chosen by the number of votes rather than the technicalities of the electoral college – but this is not a cry from Republicans for a fairer more transparent system. If this were implemented universally they may have a point; but this is just for California, a state which will almost certainly vote Democrat.

Although the proposal will probably be defeated it will draw millions of dollars of resources from the Democrat coffers to fight it. Sometimes I think conservatives will stoop to anything to win an election.

* John Dixon blogs at a radical writes.

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17 Comments

  • Link? Because such a change would not be conservative, it would be a fairly radical reform, one which I’d be fairly in favour of; the electoral college exists for fairly strong reasons, and while I’d favour a reform along the lines of that already in place in Maine, this sort of thing would, irf transferred nationally, bring all the states back into play as battlegrounds and make it a truly national contest once again; that’d be a Good Thing.

  • There were efforts by California democrats to pass a bill that would do this, but only once it was implemented by enough states to be a majority of the electoral college. This was stopped, I believe, by the republican “governator”- which shows the real plan at work.
    Doing this in a penny packet way will just leave one side disenfranchised and locked out of power- until they change the rules back for good.

  • What do people think in general about individuals being able to get questions put on the ballot?

    I doubt I would want it for Britain, not least because it is these kinds of initiatives that have allowed state after state to pass anti-gay laws.

    It perhaps makes me sound like a terrible political junkie but I love reading through some of these questions after each Election Day in the States as they cover such weird and wonderful topics.

  • Barry Scott 6th Aug '07 - 9:34am

    The system is already not consistent across the United States in any case – after all, Maine and (I think) Oregon both distribute their electoral votes through PR.

    I too would be interested to see a link to an article about this action in California though.

  • Benjamin Mathis 6th Aug '07 - 9:50am

    It’s Maine and Nebraska and it’s not quite PR but it’s slightly fairer. Maine allocates 1 of its 4 votes to the candidate who wins each district and the remainder to the candidate who wins the state overall.

    Electoral reform in the US would be great. This alone would be a scandal.

  • Barry Scott 6th Aug '07 - 10:52am

    Thanks Benjamin – memory is not what is was. Still, I was only out by 1,300 odd miles! *cough*

    And thanks to John Dixon for posting a link to the story.

  • Benjamin (6), I am not sure it would be a scandal. How states allocate their electoral college votes is entirely up to them, and what is being proposed is that Californian voters decide for themselves whether or not the rules change in their own state. Not helpful if you’re a Democrat perhaps, but more an example of democracy than of a scandal.

  • Jeremy Sanders 6th Aug '07 - 2:29pm

    Sadly, an example of the extent to which all parties in the US (and the Democrats can be just as bad) have a tradition of fairly openly interfering in the electoral system for political advantage. Usually the presidential election is simply too big for this to make much difference, but I’m sure everyone will remember the situation in Florida in 2000 where the result of the election was effectively decided by senior election officials who were quite openly biased toward to Republicans. This can be much more blatant at lower level.

    Whilst it goes against the grain to say so as a Liberal, a lot of the problem is as a result of the extent to which the administration of the process is decentralised. Anyone old enough to remember the 1960s will remember the “literacy tests” imposed at local level in many southern states as a requirement for voting which no black person ever passed, or white person failed.

    Of course, this isn’t only a problem in the US. France has had countless changes to the electoral system since World War II, almost entirely on the basis of providing political advantage to whoever was in government at the time.

  • meiriongwril 6th Aug '07 - 2:47pm

    It’s worth remembering that the California system would give the electoral college votes to each electoral district, and that these districts are open to political gerrymandering (remember Texas redisticting), and not drawn up by an independent commission as in UK. What they need, of course, is multi-member districts to run STV elections!!

  • Barry Scott 6th Aug '07 - 2:58pm

    Jeremy (10) – don’t forget though that the system isn’t “decentralised” in the sense that we would understand the term (the centre empowering outwards). The American constitution is an agreement of states.

    We talk a lot about America as a democracy but it is a constitutional republic, designed to protect the voices of the smaller states.

    As you point out this has led to really repugnant actions being carried out under the banner of “state’s rights”.

    Unfortunately this all makes electoral reform in the United States a near-impossibility. It can happen but it would require a considerable rewriting of the American constitution and I cannot forsee there being the will for that in enough of the states to make that happen.

    The only way I think it could work is the idea that Tinter (2) mentioned – the idea of states passing changes to their own electoral law that require a certain number of other states (or states reflecting a certain number of electoral college seats) to adopt the same laws before they come into force.

    As Stuart (9) remarks, this isn’t really a scandal though, however uncomfortable we might feel about the political implications of the decision.

  • Meiriongwril (11), it’s important to point out that it’s not the case that in every state whoever is in charge when the time comes to redistrict ruthlessly squeezes every last ounce of political advantage out of the process. A few states use independent commissions, as happens here in the UK. I think I am right in saying that Calif. doesn’t but there’s an understanding that incumbents of either party are looked after – essentially districts are made ever-more one-sided… which is probably the worst of all worlds.

    As Barry Scott points out (12), states do not have rights because they are handed them by the federal government. They have them as of right, and that includes the right to redistrict. It’s up to them to come up with the rules on this.

    I like Tinter’s (2) idea too, of introducing a “trigger law” whereby a law is passed but it doesn’t come into effect until a certain event – or trigger – breathes life into it. In this case, it would require enough states to pass a similar law to the extent that, say, over half of all the electoral votes would be up for grabs in the same way.

    The model for these types of trigger laws are (sadly) anti-abortion laws. Many states have trigger laws that would ban abortion immediately and without further vote or debate if the Supreme Court ever allowed states to decide.

  • Geoffrey Payne 8th Aug '07 - 10:37pm

    Surely the biggest scandal of all was in 1999 when Gore won the majority of votes, regardless of the real vote in Florida, and yet Bush became president.
    The bazzare state of affairs in the USA at election time is that marginal states get too much attention, and safe states not enough.
    Now it would be very serious for the Democrats if California along changed it’s voting system, and unfair if Texas and the other “red” states did not change. But fundamentally the best system would be STV, or in effect AV for the whole country for the presidential elections.

  • american citizen 14th Sep '08 - 4:54am

    to be true about this election, most white americans will vote for McCain and Palin for the simple reason that Obama is black, not that he dosen’t have enough experience to run this country. Because to be truly honest no one has enough experience to run the country until they are elected to do so. Palin as a female have no experience either, but white americans would rather take a chance on her than Obama. Plan and simple if they vote for Obama that means in their small minds (white americans) that blacks are their equal and not beneath them. One thing they have seem to have forgotten is that GOD created everyone in his own image. not the image of a white, black, green, blue or whatever color you choose image. Take the focus off of the skin color or gender of these candidates and focus on the issues that affect us as american citizens and vote in a president and vice president that will take care of our needs as the american people

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