Monday, August 13, 2007

Maine-Nebraska system to go to California?

This is interesting. If this ballot initative passes, it will be a major league change in presidential politics. California has 55 electoral votes, and went democrat by 10% in 2004 and 11% in 2000.

From the Monitor.

Los Angeles - A new ballot initiative in California, calling to end the winner-take-all system for distributing the state's electoral votes in a presidential election, could alter the outcome of the 2008 race.

GOP strategists, who are pushing the measure, hope to boost the chances of Republican White House candidates in 2008 and beyond by mandating that California's jackpot of 55 electoral votes be apportioned by congressional district.

With the state having more than 10 percent of the 538 national total votes, the GOP would be buoyed by some 20 congressional districts that consistently vote Republican, experts say. Enacting such a change would be a blow to Democrats in left-leaning California, who count on the state's large pool of electoral votes in any scenario to win the presidency.

"This has huge implications within the state but also nationally," says Tony Quinn, coeditor of California Target Book, a nonpartisan analysis of congressional and state legislative races.

President Bush lost California by 1.2 million votes in 2004, though he carried 22 of 53 congressional districts. If the districts he won had been equal to 22 electoral votes, Mr. Bush wouldn't have needed to win the crucial state of Ohio and could have spent time and resources elsewhere.

For those who don't know, the Maine-Nebraska system is as follows. Candidates gain two electoral votes for winning the state, and one additional vote for each congressional district. These states rarely split their votes as the districts are strong leaners to one party or the other, but it is possible. Maine's 2nd Congressional district is competitive to some degree, but does lean democrat by about 5%. All three Nebraska seats are solidly republican, and Maine's 1st district is solidly democrat.

If this applied to Michigan in 2004, the Republicans would have taken ten electoral votes (All Republican seats and Stupak's seat up north), and the democrats would take five electoral votes (Two for winning the state, and the Detroit, Dingell, Levin, and Kildee districts). The Knollenberg and Stupak seats are swing districts at the top of the ticket, with potential competitiveness in most of the other Republican sections depending on the matchups at the top of the ticket.

If this applied to California, the GOP would have taken all the Republican held seats(then 20, Pombo's seat went dem in 06), as well as the Democrat Cardoza, and Loretta Sanchez seats (barely). 22 electoral votes would have switched - more than all states besides Florida, Texas, and New York - and that includes the juggernaut battlegrounds of Ohio and Pennsylvania and democrat stronghold of Illinois.

What are the ramifications if this passes?
1. California will not be ignored in the general election. While democrats will very likely take the two votes statewide and most of their current districts, and Republicans would take most of their districts, about 5-7 of those districts could be real battlegrounds. The Costa, Cardoza, Sanchez, Bono, former Pombo, Gallegly and Dreier seats are potentially competitive.
2. Other states will push this. Several retalliations on all sides may be likely, particulary in strong one party states with a significant minority in the other party. Texas would be the big target, probably countered by Illinois.
3. Severe Redistricting battles - if you add Presidential races to the redistricting fights, you'll have the problems today multiplied by 100. California had several competitive seats in the 1990's. The redistricting there was a relatively non-controversial incumbent protection act that kept their seats almost in an overkill fashion.

I believe Colorado attempted this in either 2004 or 2006 and failed. If they succeed, 2 electoral votes would solidly go democrat, 4 would go republican, one would be a toss up, and the state itself would account for two more electoral votes which may be very well up for grabs in 2008.

I would support the Maine-Nebraska system nationwide, but only if there is significant redistricting reform as well that takes legislatures, commissions, judges, and other politicians out of the equation. Else, there is too much gamesmanship involved. Until then, Pandora's box should remain closed.


Lars said...

Congressional allocation of electoral votes is nothing more than a power play by a state’s minority party. The Republicans in California are trying to do it by initiative. The Democrats in North Carolina (a red presidential state) tried to do it through legislation. It is a partisan solution to a non-partisan problem.

The real solution is to move to a direct national popular vote for President. That system would eliminate the reality of “battleground” and “safe” states. Every voter would become a battleground as each candidate would be competing for each vote, not for a given state or congressional district. Under a national popular vote system, every vote would be equal. The candidate with the most votes would win.

A group called National Popular Vote ( is trying to implement just such a change. There are identical bills pending in more than 40 states. They have received positive mention in the NY Times, LA Times and a bunch of other papers. said...

Lars is right about one thing... this is a move that Dems have been trying in Red states.

Even Howard Dean has come out against his own party's efforts (he's the top dog at the DNC) because he knows it could spur on success of this sort of thing in a place like California.

And if California were to go this route? Might as well sign up the Republican party for an extended stay in the White House.

That said, I think it's a pretty horrible idea.

Folks who hate the electoral college should REALLY hate this. Instead of battleground states suddenly you're dealing with Battleground Congressional Districts.

It'd literally take hundreds of pages to adequately explain just what a bad idea this is... pandora's box indeed.

Keep it shut.

And stick with the Electoral College. We don't have a pure democracy. We've got a democratic republic. A federalist system of government.

Careful not to mix up your apples and oranges.