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In Wisconsin, hidden flaws in new proposal for electoral votes

January 12th, 2021, 1:56pm by Zachariah Sippy


State Representative Gary Tauchen (R) has introduced a bill in the Wisconsin General Assembly to change the way electoral votes are allocated. Instead of a winner-take-all system, his proposal would dole them out by congressional districts. At first, this plan looks like it would help Republicans. But the real long-term beneficiaries might be Democrats— and take Wisconsin off the national stage for Presidential elections.

Wisconsin, like 48 other states, presently awards electors by a winner-take-all rule. Rep. Tauchen’s proposal would move Wisconsin to an arrangement like Nebraska and Maine, where electoral college votes are awarded by congressional seats. Under Rep. Tauchen’s plan, President Trump would have won 6 out of 10 electoral votes, instead of the zero he actually won.

On its surface, this bill would seem to benefit Republicans and fit in with their pattern of playing constitutional hardball in the Badger State of gerrymandering, attacking gubernatorial powers, and so on. But Tauchen’s plan might actually backfire for a couple of reasons.

First, Wisconsin is trending towards Republicans. While it’s true that President-elect Biden won the state by just 0.6%, his margin nationally was 4.4%. This means that Wisconsin actually voted 3.8 points more Republican than the country overall. So past performance (see below) is no guarantee of future returns.

YearMargin (D-R)CDs won by DElectors for DTauschen planTauschen bonus
2008+13.9%7/8109+1 for R
2012+6.9%3/8105+5 for R
2016-0.8%2/802+2 for D
2020+0.6%2/8104+6 for R

Second, thanks to today’s political polarization districts would turn out the same nearly every election. Wisconsin has eight congressional districts, but only one of them is especially competitive (WI-3). Therefore with 7 electors effectively a lock for either party, only 3 electors (2 overall, and 1 congressional seat) would be at stake.

In the event that only 3 electoral votes would be competitive, as small as a state with only one Congressional district. Wisconsin’s power to determine the president would diminish considerably. How much attention would Presidential candidates pay to the Badger State if the payoff was as small as winning Alaska or one of the Dakotas?

Lastly, Republicans aren’t even in total control of redistricting in Wisconsin this year. They have the share that power with Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat. So even if Republicans did enact Tauchen’s proposal, the new congressional districts might not end up being that favorable to their plan.

To summarize, assigning electors by congressional districts:

  • Guarantees Democrats 2-3 electoral votes every election for a decade in an increasingly Republican state. 
  • Reduces Wisconsin’s national influence to that of one Dakota.

These are the many of the same pressures that led nearly every state to adopt winner-take-all rules in the first place. Sam Wang and Jacob Canter wrote a historical background for the motivations for this rule, which go back to Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to maximize the influence of his native Virginia.

Where would a proposal to allocate by congressional districts make sense? Maybe in a state that is politically competitive, but where Presidential elections may go against the party holding legislative power. Georgia comes to mind, and maybe Florida. But they would still have to clear the hurdle of being willing to throw away their national political clout.

Tags: President · Redistricting

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Russ Abbott

    Such a proposal, if enacted, would make gerrymandering even more attractive to the party in power — or at least to Republicans when they can force it.

  • Jeff Mischkinsky

    I’m curious what you think the implications might be if all the states adopted this method of allocating electors.

  • Chuck Sutton

    A number of state legislatures considered this after 2012 including Penn and Mich. In the end they failed because enough realized as you did they would make the state irrelevant.

  • 538_Refugee

    10 years is a long time considering the political mood sometimes. ‘What if’ votes were adjusted every two years based on the percentage of vote a political party got? Let’s say one party got 60% of the vote but had 30% of delegates for a given cycle. Adjust the vote so that those 30% vote is counted as 60% of the total delegated to the state. Basically each vote cast by the 30% counts as 1+ and those in the 60% is 1-.

    Could this be done at the federal level where the vote is counted? Could the house adopt this rule? I’m not gonna dig through the constitution tonight.

  • Michael L Rosin

    And in Nebraska the Republicans have introduced a bill (LB76) that would replace elector selection by congressional district plus two statewide with selection of all elextors on a statewide basis. (See https://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/107/PDF/Intro/LB76.pdf)

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