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Nichols: How to Fight the Rigging of the Electoral College

While many commentators have written about the Republican campaign to rig the electoral college vote in key states, The Nation's John Nichols has come up with a credible strategy for preventing it. if you are a Democrat in one of these states under Republican siege, print, clip and stick Nichols' post, "Three Strategies to Block the Gerrymandering of the Electoral College" on the fridge. It will likely come in handy on the road to 2016.

The three strategies Nichols suggests include:

1. "NAME AND SHAME" THOSE WHO WOULD RIG ELECTIONS

2. ENGAGE IN THE DEBATE AND OFFER A POPULAR-VOTE ALTERNATIVE

3. MAKE GERRYMANDERING AN ISSUE

As regards point #1, many would say "But they have no shame." It's not hard to cite numerous instances of Republican shamelessness on a broad range of topics. Nonetheless, there are memes they don't want to get stuck with. As Nichols explains:

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 the 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."

Progressives often flunk when it comes to "naming and shaming." The progressive blogosphere generally does its part creating national buzz calling attention to injustices. But this doesn't help enough to generate local coverage confronting electoral vote-suppressing perps on camera. It's also about local protestors confronting these Republicans wherever they appear, again and again, until they renounce the project. That's the job of Democratic activists. Nichols adds that an important part of "shaming" is to ferret out Republicans who have a conscience and who are willing to publicly denounce electoral vote suppression as morally repulsive.

With respect to Nichols' second strategy, he elaborates:

...The right response is to highlight the anti-democratic character of the Electoral College and to push for a national popular vote. This will require a constitutional amendment. That takes work. But the process is in play. States across the country have endorsed plans to respect the popular vote that are advanced by FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy.

"The very fact that a scenario [in which a rigged Electoral College allows a popular-vote loser to become president] is even legally possible should give us all pause," argues FairVote's Rob Richie. "Election of the president should be a fair process where all American voters should have an equal ability to hold their president accountable. It's time for the nation to embrace one-person, one-vote elections and the 'fair fight' represented by a national popular vote. Let's forever dismiss the potential of such electoral hooliganism and finally do what the overwhelming majorities of Americans have consistently preferred: make every vote equal with a national popular vote for president."

Understanding, talking about and promoting the National Popular Vote campaign is an essential response to every proposal to rig the Electoral College. It pulls the debate out of the weeds of partisanship and appeals to a sense of fairness in Democrats, independents and responsible Republicans.

In other words, make Republican advocates of electoral college gerrymandering explain on camera why they won't support direct popular election of The President -- a reform which has broad popular support. Asked "Would you vote for or against a law that would do away with the Electoral College and base the election of the president on the total vote cast throughout the nation?," 63 percent said yes in a Gallup poll taken Jan. 8-9, with 29 percent opposed.

Nichols' third strategy, "make gerrymandering an issue," is a little tricky because it relies on the integrity of the courts. But his reasoning makes sense, and it would be political neglect not to try it:

...When gerrymandering threatens the integrity of national elections and the governing of the country, this opens a new avenue for challenging what remains the most common tool for rigging elections.

It is time for state attorneys general who have track records of supporting democracy initiatives, such as New York's Eric Schneiderman, and state elections officials, such as Minnesota's Mark Ritchie, to start looking at legal strategies to challenging the Priebus plan in particular and gerrymandering as it influences national elections. This really is an assault on the one-person, one-vote premise of the American experiment. And retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, among others, is advocating for a renewed push on behalf of fair elections.

"[It] goes back to the fundamental equal protection principle that government has the duty to be impartial. When it's engaged in districting it should be impartial," Stevens explained in a recent interview. "Nowadays, the political parties acknowledge that they are deliberately trying to gerrymander the districts in a way that will help the majority."

This, argues Stevens, is "outrageously unconstitutional in my judgment. The government cannot gerrymander for the purpose of helping the majority party; the government should be redistricting for the purpose of creating appropriate legislative districts. And the government ought to start with the notion that districts should be compact and contiguous as statutes used to require."

Stevens says the courts, which often intervene on voting rights cases involving minority representation, and in cases where states with divided government cannot settle on new district lines, should engage with the purpose of countering gerrymandering..."If the Court followed neutral principles in whatever rules they adopted, the rules would apply equally to the Republicans and Democrats," says the retired Justice, a key player on voting and democracy issues during his thirty-five-year tenure on the High Court. "I think that line of cases would generate a body of law such as the one-person, one-vote cases that would be administered in a neutral way. This is one of my major disappointments in my entire career: that I was so totally unsuccessful in persuading the Court on something so obviously correct. Indeed, I think that the Court's failure to act in this area is one of the things that has contributed to the much greater partisanship in legislative bodies..."

Justice Stevens is right. That partisanship has moved from gerrymandering the state lines and US House lines to gerrymandering the presidential vote. The moment is ripe for a constitutional intervention.

Nichols' call to arms is right on time at this early stage. Democrats must understand that once battleground state electoral college votes have been rigged to elect Republicans, it will be awfully hard, if not impossible, to undo the travesty. The time to beat back this threat is now.