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.