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(The Root) β€” 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 β€” essentially diluting the ballots of African Americans, Hispanics and Asians in metropolitan areas β€” 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 β€” shifting the GOP's House Caucus to the far right β€” 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 countΒ 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 β€” when problems regarding voter machines in minority districts led to an investigation that concluded that the integrity of the vote may have been compromised β€” 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 β€” evenly divided between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans β€” 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 β€” 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.

GOP leaders in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania β€” all blue states with Republican governors β€” have expressed interest in the electoral changes. But as Bloomberg columnist Albert Hunt writes, "If this sort of political coup had been pulled off earlier, instead of celebrations on the streets of Washington during last week's presidential inauguration, there would have been violent protests." Indeed. And African Americans may well have led the fight.

This kind of disenfranchisement isn't new to the black community, and its long, dark history has left too many scars to go unnoticed. Republicans were equally bold in their attempts to undermine minority votes ahead of the 2012 elections. Pennsylvania's House Republican leader Mike Turzai declared that a voter-ID law would "help Mitt Romney win" β€” ostensibly by disenfranchising African Americans, college students and the elderly. In Ohio, a senior Republican official fought against extensions to voting hours, writing in an email that such a move would only serve the "urban β€” read African-American β€” voter turnout machine."


Though liberal activists, community leaders and Democratic officials successfully blocked voter-suppression efforts in 2012, the sinister tactics now being employed are almost completely legal. With the exception of Southern states like Virginia, which is subject to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and therefore could face judicial review before any electoral changes are approved, other states are allowed to assign electoral votes however they please, based on Article 2 of the Constitution. In fact, Nebraska and Maine already assign votes by congressional district (though between them they constitute only nine of a total 538 electoral votes). The popular-vote method used in all other states has been a defining factor of American democracy.

The Electoral College system, of course, has not been without its critics. Following George W. Bush's tepid win against Al Gore in 2000 β€” when Bush prevailed in Florida but lost the popular vote β€” some Democrats called for an abolishment of the system altogether. The National Popular Vote initiative is currently gaining popularity and could potentially pass with the support of blue states alone, but that would take time to orchestrate, as well as require ratification by two-thirds of both the U.S. House and Senate. Such a conclusion is unlikely.

But not all is gloom and doom. The new Republican plan may prove to be an example of shooting first and aiming later. The increased turnout of minority voters in the last election was in part due to the perception that the GOP and its operatives were deliberately trying to limit voting. As Slate's Richard L. Hasen points out, any "rigging" or "gaming" of the system in the future could deliver a similar backlash β€” public outcry, unwarranted media attention and threat of political consequences.


In addition, though the preclearance provision of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act largely applies to former Confederate states β€” and its fate is in doubt as the conservative-leaning Supreme Court reviews it this year β€” Section 2 of the act offers a general prohibition against voting discrimination, with a recourse through litigation in federal court. Attorney General Eric Holder is, therefore, likely to challenge any change to presidential election rules that would amount to disenfranchisement.

Despite President Obama's decisive win, the Republican Party has yet to concede defeat. Instead of embracing the nation's demographic evolution, Republicans have chosen opportunism over altruism. Such a path can only spell their self-inflicted demise.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.


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Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.