It's no secret that the United States is undergoing a major demographic shift, and it doesn't bode well for Republicans' future presidential prospects. But rather than championing policies that appeal to America's increasingly diverse electorate, the GOP is opting for a strategy to suppress the voters they're afraid of.
Last election cycle, Rolling Stone contributor Ari Berman outlined the slew of tactics Republicans employed to block President Obama's base from getting to the polls – from racist voter ID laws to onerous limits on early voting. This effort failed miserably, and the president easily won re-election on the shoulders of students, blue-collar workers and people of color.
For Republicans, this apparently means revisiting the vote suppression drawing board. Republican legislators in several key states have devised a new plan to take back the White House in 2016: rigging the electoral system in favor of their party's presidential candidates.
Conservative lawmakers in five crucial swing states are pushing legislation that would apportion electoral votes by congressional district, instead of the traditional, winner-takes-all system currently used by all but two states. The GOP-controlled statehouses of Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are all reportedly considering plans to make the switch.
What do these five states have in common? They all voted for Obama in 2012, with significant support from non-white voters. The proposed electoral overhaul would dramatically strengthen the power of rural, white voters and stifle the voices of the urban residents who elected and re-elected our nation's first black president.
Consider the case of Michigan, a state that Obama won by more than 400,000 votes. The president received particularly strong support in Michigan districts 13 and 14, which together make up the city of Detroit. These districts contain millions of voters, who turn out to the polls at a substantially higher rate than many of their rural neighbors. Yet under the Republicans' proposed rules, each of the urban districts would get just one electoral vote, the same as any of Michigan's overwhelmingly white, rural districts. Mitt Romney would have swept those areas, carrying nine of Michigan's 16 electoral votes to Obama's seven, despite losing the state's popular vote by nearly 10 points. Detroit, where minorities make up 89 percent of the population, according to the 2010 Census, would have been rendered effectively irrelevant.
As commentators including The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie and The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates have noted, these Republican proposals would drastically weaken the effectiveness of Democratic Get Out the Vote campaigns in urban areas. Votes in Detroit – or Cincinnati, or Richmond, or Milwaukee – simply would not count as much as votes in less diverse areas. It's a scary echo of the Jim Crow era, when racist lawmakers put restrictions in place to devalue African-American votes.
And this campaign isn't merely being waged by some lowly state senators. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is all for electoral rigging: "I think it's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Last week, Virginia lawmakers made headlines by trying to sneak in a bill that would have enacted this type of deplorable change in the rules. The measure is so blatantly wrong-headed that even Virginia's Republican governor denounced it. But clearly, much more action is needed before we can be sure that Republicans won't succeed in changing the rules of democracy in their favor.