Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg: No Red States, No Blue States

tags: Salon, Electoral College, Andrew Burstein, Nancy Isenberg, red states, blue states, polarization



Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of history at LSU and coauthors of "Madison and Jefferson," now a Random House paperback.

When Virginian Thomas Jefferson provocatively wrote that the tree of liberty would have to be refreshed periodically with the blood of patriots and tyrants, he did not reckon on tyranny arising in the midst of the Virginia state Legislature from a creeping faction of smarmy hooligans primed to convert Democratic districts into Republican ones overnight. It’s in the news this week. But it’s been brewing ever since Bush v. Gore.

Someone’s always talking about dumping the general ticket plurality system – the way we have tallied the votes of the states in presidential elections since 1789 – in favor of the district system. By this means we would be tallying electoral votes one congressional district at a time rather than awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to a single candidate. Article Two, Section 1 of the Constitution says that each state legislature determines on its own how its presidential electors (i.e., those who comprise the Electoral College) are to be chosen.

There was a time in our history when some states counted popular votes and others did not. In most cases, a handful of men chosen by their state legislatures cast votes for president. It was messy. But at least it wasn’t well-coordinated. These days, the sinister combination of redistricting (to create “safe” districts) and calls for adoption of the district system of counting electoral votes has changed all that. In 2011, Pennsylvania Republicans eagerly schemed to divide their state’s 20 electoral votes in this manner, in order to defeat President Obama in 2012. Now Virginia Republicans are threatening to do the same, aware that if the district system had been operating this past November, the president would have received only four of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. You can be darn sure Texas Republicans won’t follow suit. And not because they’re too busy thinking about the secession option (as plausible as that explanation sounds). No, the reason Texas Republicans want to retain the winner-take-all counting of electoral votes in their state is that a fair number of congressional districts would appear in the Democratic column in the next presidential election....



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