Mich. GOP eyes plan for cracking 'blue wall'
Lansing — Eager to deprive Democrats of a major election advantage, Republicans here are exploring whether to change the rules so their presidential candidate can net electoral votes without having to win the state's popular vote.
New legislation now before the GOP-led Legislature would make Michigan the third — and by far the largest — state to move away from a winner-take-all system to one that allocates electoral votes proportionally. George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to win the state, in 1988.
While the bill is a longshot in this month's lame-duck session, the idea seems to be gaining traction, and Democrats are concerned that it could eventually pass if the GOP continues to maintain control of the Legislature, as it has since 2011. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said recently that the idea may have "merit," but that he has more urgent priorities.
Michigan is part of a "blue wall" — 18 states plus Washington, D.C., that Democrats have carried for at least six straight presidential races and that account for 242 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win. Over the same period, Republicans have continually won 13 states with just 102 electoral votes.
"If you change that in a couple of the states, you could equalize where the Electoral College starts out and give Republicans a better shot at the presidency," said former state GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis.
Each state has the authority to shape its own election law. Republicans are eying Michigan because it is one of only three states, with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, now dominated by Republicans at the state level but that has backed Democratic presidential nominees since the 1980s.
Talk of changing the electoral system has been the subject of two contentious committee hearings.
Under the proposed legislation, the top two presidential candidates could get electoral votes. The candidate who won the statewide vote would get at least nine of the state's 16 electoral votes. The winning candidate would be awarded an additional electoral vote for each 1.5 percentage point increase in their margin of victory over the second-place finisher.
Republican Rep. Pete Lund, the sponsor of the bill, said the change would make both parties' candidates campaign harder in Michigan. "It's not going to be about just winning Michigan," but winning by the biggest edge possible, he said. "That's what we want. That's what puts us on the political map."
Opponents said the change would have the opposite effect because the winner would get less benefit.
Under the proposed change, Democrat Barack Obama, who won Michigan by 9 percentage points in 2012, would have netted 12 electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney's four. (Obama won the national count 332 to 206). The closely fought 2000 race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore would have been less of a squeaker in the Electoral College, with Bush getting seven more votes than he received in winning 271-266.
Democrats have harshly criticized the proposal.
"It's just a brazen attempt to rig the political system so that people who vote for Democrats in presidential elections will have their votes minimized," said Rep. Brandon Dillon.
Even though Republicans control both Michigan's House and Senate, the measure is hampered by the ambivalence of Snyder, who needs Democratic votes to pass his top priority — a $1.4 billion tax increase for transportation funding.
Some Republicans are also unenthusiastic, unwilling to concede that the GOP nominee will not be able to win Michigan in the future.
"Maybe we haven't done it in a while, but I like the all-or-nothing," said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. "Let's win this state."
Maine and Nebraska are the only states now that allot electoral votes proportionally rather than on the winner-take-all basis. Their electoral votes are distributed according to the vote in congressional districts.
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