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The GOP’s electoral groundhog game

Gary Caruso | Friday, February 1, 2013

Tomorrow is another Groundhog Day when Punxsutawney Phil pops his head above ground for the annual spring weather prognostication that hinges upon whether or not he casts a shadow. Spotting his shadow brings six more weeks of winter since it frightens him back into his hole. Ironically, a few miles away, Pennsylvania Democrats continue their Whac-A-Mole fight against a long, diabolical shadow cast by state Republican legislators across the commonwealth’s presidential electoral process. The GOP has proposed a redistribution of the electoral wealth by drastically changing the state’s Electoral College distribution to favor their highly partisan and currently Republican-tilted redrawn congressional district maps. Democrats hope exposing their blatant shadowy electoral rigging will force the GOP to back down like frightened groundhogs.
Historically, Pennsylvania is a presidential swing state with a reliably Democratic blue tint. The GOP – unable to win statewide during the last several cycles and last year actually falling short by a million votes in the overall tally across all of their gerrymandered districts – simply wants to dismantle the winner-takes-all electoral rules. Their fabrication would dilute votes from Democratic strongholds in several key swing states currently under GOP control that, enacted across the board, collectively would have changed last year’s election to favor Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed the scheme saying “states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to” consider the change. The GOP-hatched ploy seeks to also change Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Virginia – all currently controlled by Republicans but won by President Obama twice. The rules-changing ploy purposefully dilutes the one-person, one-vote principle, especially in urban areas where African-Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, the college-educated, gays and non-religious voters – mostly Democrats who twice overwhelming supported Obama – live in heavy concentrations.
Republicans reason they must either suppress their opponents’ electoral power at the ballot box or divide Democratic strength. Priebus encourages this systematic rigging to help elect a Republican without actually winning a majority of the vote. Bowing to fringe ideas that did not earn majority support last year, the GOP, absently changing its policies, needs to rig a handful of states now to compete in the 2016 election. Priebus calculates an Electoral College redistribution based on currently gerrymandered congressional districts that will keep the GOP competitive regardless of policy flaws.
 His plot is simple. The state winner would not earn all of the state’s electoral votes. Votes would be awarded one electoral vote at a time to the winner of each congressional district. The two electoral votes of each U.S. senator would be piled onto the already skewed congressional districts’ winner regardless of the total statewide vote. Using just Pennsylvania and Virginia as examples, President Obama won all 33 electoral votes while Romney won none. The GOP scheme would award Romney a 24-9 advantage despite losing by 300,000 and 150,000 votes respectively.
Democrats need to be loud and clear – the loser always loses in a fair election. Republicans currently control various reliably Democratic states merely by happenstance, having won control during the decennial year. That alone is not license to decimate precedence or ethical governing for a decade. Should Democrats lessen Romney’s electoral totals in reliably fire-engine red Texas, Georgia and Arizona as their consolation? If so, the national popular vote might as well determine elections, which currently also favors Democrats.
 Democrats need to counter these rules changes through legislation or ballot initiatives by creating unbiased, nonpartisan commissions to redraw the congressional districts before any electoral vote redistribution. Assuredly that would reduce the atypical number of Republicans presently in congress. It will also forever kill the amoeba-shaped districts and preserve community borders.
 Interestingly, Pennsylvania traditionally exercised parity regardless of governmental party control. The longstanding precedence – prior to the 2000 and 2010 Republican-drawn “amoeba” congressional maps – maintained the principal of “wholeness,” that is, of maintaining as many complete and natural municipal divisional lines. Most of the 67 counties were not divided. The few divided counties preserved the integrity of townships and municipalities. Districts remained quite stable without looking like amoeba with spider-legs, salamander fins and trapezoid edges.
Parity existed for three decades from Watergate and the Reagan landslide through the Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich elections. Democrats peaked with a 13-10 edge while Republicans held an 11-10 edge after the state lost seats. Since then, however, the Pennsylvania GOP has shamelessly created disfigured districts, even splitting my small hometown, Canonsburg, along certain streets to dilute the impact of traditionally reliant Democratic votes. Republicans gained a 12-7 edge that was washed out by anti-Bush sentiment to favor Democrats 11-8. But in 2012, Pennsylvania Republicans recreated a 13-5 delegation advantage through grotesque tentacle-looking districts that split a majority of counties and major cities to dilute their natural community vote.
 As national voter demographics evolve, the 2016 presidential contest just may hinge on newly trending blue states like Texas, Georgia and Arizona. That looming shadow portends a Republican winter longer than six years. In any case, be thankful the GOP does not forecast the weather.

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him at: GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.