GOP’s Three-Fifths Compromise

The party's new voting scheme to win the White House: Rig the Electoral College.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — The Republican Party learned one crucial lesson from Mitt Romney’s defeat: The only way it can win the White House is to rig the election.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has publicly endorsed a plan for GOP-controlled legislatures in key battleground states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida to alter the way Electoral College votes are allocated. Instead of electoral votes being awarded to the candidate who wins a popular majority, Republicans intend to assign votes by congressional district — essentially diluting the ballots of African Americans, Hispanics and Asians in metropolitan areas — by giving more leverage to rural counties that are less populated and overwhelmingly white.

This strategy is a direct consequence of the 2010 midterm elections, to which President Obama famously referred as a “shellacking.” As the Tea Party descended on Washington — shifting the GOP’s House Caucus to the far right — Republican-dominated legislatures at the state level were able to redraw congressional districts based on 2010 census data. Unfortunately for Democrats, these gerrymandered lines will remain in place until the 2020 census.

This also explains how Republicans managed to hold their majority in the House, despite Democratic congressional candidates receiving more than a million additional votes. And now, having seen the effectiveness of gerrymandering, Republicans intend to apply the same blueprint to presidential elections.

Under the scheme being proposed, a state like Pennsylvania, which Obama won in 2012, would have given a majority of its electoral votes to Romney. Each of the millions of votes cast by blacks in the city of Philadelphia would count half as much as each of those cast by white farmers in a rural Pennsylvania town.

Ironically, this 21st-century “three-fifths compromise” is being championed by Ken Blackwell, a prominent African-American Republican and former Ohio secretary of state. Blackwell has the dubious distinction of serving during Ohio’s 2004 presidential contest — when problems regarding voter machines in minority districts led to an investigation that concluded that the integrity of the vote may have been compromised — delivering George W. Bush a win against John Kerry.

This latest effort to subvert the popular vote has been surreptitiously designed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the lobbying firm that is infamous for “Stand your ground” laws and voter-ID legislation. In 2011, ALEC officially changed its policy on the Electoral College to promote allocation by congressional districts and is now implementing that policy through state legislatures and policy ambassadors like Blackwell.

When asked in an interview for the Atlantic whether his efforts were purely to ensure success of a Republican presidential candidate, Blackwell all but admitted that they were. “That could be a byproduct, depending on who drew the lines last and who’s running,” he answered.

Republicans in key swing states are following suit ahead of 2016. The Virginia state Senate — evenly divided between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans — took advantage of an opportunistic moment on, of all days, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when Democratic State Sen. Henry Marsh attended President Obama’s inauguration. Marsh, who happens to be African American, would have been the sole barrier to passing a redistricting plan — but Republicans pushed through the legislation in his absence. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has expressed disappointment with legislators’ tactics but has yet to announce a veto.