Many American voters, forgetting their basic civic lessons, have the misconception that elections are decided by the popular vote and that We the People pick our head of state. This is not technically true.
Enter the Electoral College, that shadowy group that ultimately decides who is the next president.
What many people do not realize is that the general election is just the first vote taken in the process of choosing a president. When you cast your vote for the president, you are actually casting a vote for the person who will vote for the president. As the Constitution lays out, the electors who are a part of the Electoral College are dictated by their state’s popular vote on who to ultimately pick. Through this system we have red states, and blue states, and swing states, and critical swing states, and all the election terms were learned all too well as we followed the New York Times’ Nate Silver and his blog, which correctly projected President Obama’s re-election by using polling data to dissect how each state would eventually vote in the Electoral College system.
This election, more so than any in recent history, gave us a lesson on the Electoral College. We learned that the popular vote is actually 50 individual races. A candidate has to win the popular votes in enough states to gain an absolute majority share of Electoral College votes. The magic number is 270.
Republicans, of course, learned this civics lesson the hard way when their man, Mitt Romney, who may have come reasonably close in the overall popular vote, got absolutely trounced in in the final Electoral College tallies.
Now the GOP is pushing to make electoral changes. GOP legislators in Virginia — a traditionally red state that Obama won through popular vote, thus nabbing it's electoral votes — are proposing changes that would alter how votes are given. The proposed changes would apportion electoral votes by congressional district, a setup far more favorable to Republicans [than the current winner-take-all system in most states]. As the Washington Post explains, under such a system in Virginia, for instance, President Obama would have claimed four of the state's 13 electoral votes in the 2012 election, rather than all of them.
Other states considering similar changes include Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania ... which all share a common dynamic with Virginia: They went for Obama in the past two elections but are controlled by Republicans at the state level. All were also considered critical swing states in 2012, and had they gone the other way (even a few of them), Romney could have won the election.
Had the 2012 election been apportioned in every state according to these new Republican plans, Romney would have led Obama by at least 11 electoral votes.
Obama won 332 votes to Romney's 206 in the current electoral system.
Within the 26 states that Obama took, Romney won a plurality of votes in 99 congressional districts.
Obama, on the other hand, won only 32 congressional districts in red states.
That said, Romney would have been allocated a different set of electoral votes, giving him a slight edge over Obama in the final tallies.
If successful, Virginia would become the third state to adopt the congressional district system, after Nebraska and Maine.
Would this be a fairer system? Romney won 47% of the popular vote, while Obama got 51%. A Romney win under this scenarieo would only have increased a call for election reform ... and would have proven that the most popular candidate didn't win.
The electoral reforms would also favor future Republican presidential candidates ... this is almost like gerrymandering times 1,000.