Boris Bazhanov was Joseph Stalin’s personal secretary from 1923 to 1928, and later served as secretary of the Soviet Political Bureau. In hismemoirs published in 1980, he recounts something Stalin told him about voting.
“I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how,” Stalin said. “But what is extremely important is this — who will count the votes, and how.” Despite never having to worry about surviving popular elections, or really being a fan of democracy, Stalin knew the trick to subverting a democracy wasn’t in getting your people to vote, but instead was in making sure their votes were counted in a way that made sure your side won.
You can get 100% of the population voting, but if you can selectively decide which votes to count and which to throw out, you’ll win every time. As playwright Tom Stoppard quips in his play, Jumpers, “It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.”
Now it appears the Republican Party has picked up on this, and is preparing for its boldest maneuver yet to ensure Democrats never again win the White House, by changing the way presidential Electoral Votes are counted.
The plan works like this: Instead of giving all of a state’s Electoral College votes to the popular vote winner of that state, Republicans want Electoral College votes in a small number of states to be doled out based on who won each Congressional district, plus two votes going to the popular vote winner.
Of course, those Congressional districts in several traditionally blue states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan were drawn by newly-elected Republicans state legislatures after the 2010 census. And they were drawn in a way that already gives Republicans an advantage by carving up Democratic strongholds and creating “safe” Republican seats. That’s how Republicans kept control of the House of Representatives in 2012, despite House Democrats winning a million and a half more votes nationwide than House Republicans.
For example, last November President Obama won the popular vote in Wisconsin and thus received all of Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral College votes. But under this new Republican plan, he would have only received one Electoral College vote for each Congressional district that he won. Since he only won three newly-gerrymandered districts, he would have only gotten three votes, plus two more votes for winning the popular vote. Mitt Romney, who won five gerrymandered districts, would have received five votes. So, under this scenario, despite winning the popular vote in Wisconsin by a 7-point landslide last November, President Obama would have walked away from the Badger State with an equal number of Electoral College votes as Mitt Romney — five each.
Now you can see why Republicans like this idea!
With this simple tweak in how Electoral College votes are counted, the big win for the President in Wisconsin turns into a tie. In fact, had all the battleground states adopted this new vote counting scheme, Mitt Romney would be our President today, despite losing the popular, majority vote in every single battleground state: Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and so on.
The way Congressional districts in several blue states are drawn today means it would be virtually impossible for a Democrat to win the White House should all of these states adopt this new method of counting Electoral College votes — at least until 2020, when the next census comes due and Congressional districts are redrawn.
Again, as Stalin said, it’s not about who votes, it’s about how the votes are counted.
Now, as you might imagine, an idea like this is explosive. It would hand the White House over to Republican one-party rule. And any political party that truly believes in a democracy that reflects the will of the people would never embrace an election-rigging scheme like this.
But Republicans have no shame.
This exact idea was first proposed in 2011 by Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett. Again, that’s a Governor proposing it and not some local crackpot party official. Luckily, Corbett abandoned it before the election, or else Mitt Romney would have won the state’s majority share of Electoral College votes despite losing the popular vote statewide.
But, after seeing how bad they got shellacked in November, more and more prominent Republicans are voicing their support for this idea. The idea has been revived in Pennsylvania. Also, Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker said he supports it, and his colleague, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is promising to introduce legislation to make it happen. Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, wants to do it, too. And so, too, do Republican state lawmakers in Michigan.
But most shocking of all, the latest endorser of this election-rigging scheme is none other than the top Republican Party official himself, RNC Chair Reince Preibus. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Priebus said, “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red out to be looking at.”
What all this adds up to is this: Republicans are really going to try to do this. Over the next few years, they really are going to try to rig the next election.
After all, what other choice do they have?
They could ditch trickle-down economics, which the American middle class now knows is nothing more than a scam that makes the rich richer while making the poor poorer. But since that would mean casting aside what George W. Bush referred to as his “base” — the billionaire class — we know that won’t happen.
Republicans could just accept the issue of women’s’ choice as settled and stop trying to limit women’s access to contraceptives or talking about “legitimate” rape. But that might cause the religious zealots on the Right who are preparing for the rapture to stop donating, and even leave the Republican Party. So, that won’t happen.
They could adopt a more compassionate approach to minorities in hopes of adapting to America’s changing demographics. Or they could just ditch their war on the New Deal and accept that the majority of Americans like social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. But we know that won’t happen, either — there’s too much money there that their bankster buddies on Wall Street want to get their hands on.
The truth of the matter is, Republicans simply aren’t willing to say “no” to the billionaires, and evolve from their prehistoric and unelectable current form into a political party that can actually build majority coalitions once again.
So, the only option left for a party that can’t win elections is to rig elections.
Consider this a warning. We thought we’d seen the worse. But Voter Suppression ID laws, cuts to early voting, long lines in heavily Democratic precincts, and new hurdles to voter registration are nothing compared to this latest vote-rigging scheme.
While most of us are focused on “fiscal cliffs” and budget battles in Washington, DC, the real fight for the future of our democracy is, right now, happening in State legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan.
To badly paraphrase Paul Revere: Awaken the citizenry and spread the word!