California May Split Electoral Votes to GOP Advantage

Jonathan Alter reports on a diabolical plot by California Republicans to steal the 2008 election. Rather than giving all their votes to the statewide winner, almost assuredly a Democrat, they would instead give only two votes to the statewide winner and allocate the remainder to the winner in each of the 53 congressional districts. Californian Kevin Drum agrees this is “blatantly partisan” but thinks it highly unlikely to pass.

I’ll defer to Drum on the likelihood question. And, indeed, one would think a state with a Democratic majority would be loathe to vote for a referendum that would likely redound to the benefit of the Republicans, at least in the near term.

In theory, though, there’s nothing wrong with the idea. Assemblyman Tom Harman tried to get this reform passed shortly after the 2004 election, arguing that Democrats take the Golden State for granted while Republicans write it off, with both parties “us[ing] California as an ATM machine to carry on their campaigns elsewhere.” Maine and Nebraska already do it this way and Colorado — which has recently trended Democrat — had a referendum on their 2004 ballots that would have done the same thing (it failed).

Alter thinks this reform wouldn’t do much to attract campaign attention to California because most of the districts are very safe and that the ballot initiative is unconstitutional, since the Constitution vests the powers for allocating Electors in state legislatures. The first is a political calculation that Californians can make on their own. The latter is true so far as it goes. Presumably, though, the legislature could and would validate the wishes of the voters as expressed in the referendum results.

More generally, Alter prefers the method of the Campaign for the National Popular Vote, which would have each state award all its Electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. If we’re going to do that, though, I’d prefer a Constitutional Amendment rather than the stealth version.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Congress, The Presidency, US Constitution, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LaurenceB says:

    My personal preference would be to have a constitutional amendment that would simultaneously bring all of the states to a system similar to the one being proposed in Californians.

    The current “winner-take-all” awarding of electoral college votes has never made sense to me, and the California proposal would have the effect of pushing the electoral college voting to more closely follow the popular vote. That’s a good thing in my book.

    The problem with the California proposal is that Californians (both Reps and Dems, but currently mostly Dems) would be silly to vote for it, since it effectively dilutes their state’s leverage in the national Presidential election. Which is why it would need to take place in all states simultaneously.

  2. R. Alex says:

    Laurence, do you really want gerrymandered districts to matter more in the presidential race as well.

    Anyhow, at least in California they’re putting it up to the popular vote. In North Carolina it’s being handled by a Democratic state legislature and governor.

  3. Susan says:

    California people aren’t so dumb to allow the GOP to spin this as election reform. when in fact it is a very partisan bill, favoring the republican party, and Californians would not want that perties candidate as their next president. Imagine old sour puss Fred Thompson as president. with Rove by his side. Another southern bible thumper
    Lets get real!! I’m waiting for Al Gore to step in. Californian’s want a president that is for the people a democrat or a liberal………not a corporate,corrupt republican