Reince Priebus speaks at the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
As Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus promotes one of the most blatant assaults on democracy in modern times -- a scheme to gerrymander the Electoral College so that the loser of the popular vote could win key states and the presidency -- the number-one question from frustrated citizens is: What can we do about it?
After so many assaults on voting rights and the electoral process itself have been advanced, it is easy to imagine that Priebus, Karl Rove and their team could get away even with so audacious an initiative as the rigging of presidential elections.
Priebus is counting on precisely that cynicism, as well as the neglect of the story by major media, to enable the plan to have Republican legislatures and governors in key swing states -- Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- arrange for the distribution of electoral votes not to winners of the popular vote statewide but to the winners of individual congressional districts. Because of the gerrymandering of congressional district lines, the scheme would in 2012 have shifted the circumstance so that, in Pennsylvania for instance, the losing candidate, Republican Mitt Romney, would have won the overwhelming majority of the state's electoral votes.
Under at least one scenario entertained by Priebus and his minions, Romney's 5 million -- vote loss of the popular vote nationally still would not have prevented him from assuming the presidency.
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Impossible? Hardly. Because of gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic votes in urban areas and college towns, a 1.4-million vote majority for Democrats in congressional races nationwide in 2012 was converted into Republican control of the US House and gridlocked government.
So can Priebus be stopped? It's possible. But democracy advocates need to move fast, and smart.
What to do?
1. "NAME AND SHAME" THOSE WHO WOULD RIG ELECTIONS
Because election rules are often arcane, those who write them have an advantage. If they move quickly and quietly, they can "fix" the system to their advantage.
Priebus made a mistake several weeks ago when he spoke openly about the Electoral College scheme, announcing: "I think it's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue [Democratic in presidential politics] that are fully controlled red [in the statehouse] ought to be considering."
When The Nation began writing several weeks ago about the Priebus plan, and specific efforts in swing states, the stories went viral. Social media matters in this struggle. So, too, does the attention coming from television and radio hosts such as MSNBC's Ed Schultz, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and Thom Hartmann.
The attention "names and shames" Republicans who are implementing the Priebus plan in states such as Virginia. But it also puts pressure on Republicans who are considering doing so. Significantly, when Florida legislative leaders were asked by The Miami Herald about the proposal, the biggest swing state's most powerful Republicans scrambled to distance themselves from the anti-democratic initiative. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said, "To me, that's like saying in a football game, "We should have only three quarters, because we were winning after three quarters and they beat us in the fourth. I don't think we need to change the rules of the game, I think we need to get better."
Florida Senate President Don Gaetz was similarly dismissive. "I think we should abolish the Electoral College but nobody in Washington has called to ask for my opinion," said Gaetz. "If James Madison had asked me, and I had been there, I would have said a popular vote is a better way to do it."