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Nov 9, 2012
Voting in Ohio this week went about as smoothly as could be hoped for. There were lines, yes, but nothing on the scale of the disaster of 2004. Thanks to the Obama campaigns lawsuit, voters were able to head to the polls on the days before election day. In Columbus, election officials blocked access for True the Vote, the anti-voter fraud group that took it upon itself to harass and intimidate minority voters at polling places across the country, citing concerns it had falsified its documents.
Secretary of State John Husted managed to keep himself in the middle of it, issuing nakedly partisan orders about early voting hours that kept polling places open in Republican precincts longer than Democratic ones, forcing officials who disagreed with him out of office, and at one point sending out a directive to restrict early voting hours that seemed to directly contradict the order of a federal judge.
In a press conference this morning, Husted offered his explanation for the outsized attention he received and proposed a solution. The problem, he said, wasn’t that he got caught trying to tip the state to the candidate from his own party, but that the focus on Ohio as swing state and bellwether (it remains true that no Republican candidate has won election without winning Ohio) meant any Secretary of State would have had his actions criticized (evidence that this is true is non-existent). His solution is to change how Ohio assigns its electoral votes from the winner-take-all system to one where each vote is assigned by Congressional district.
This is a terrible idea. The electoral college has a ton of problems, but switching to this system makes things worse, not better. Congressional districts are drawn every ten years, and are drawn by the party that controls the state legislature to maximize their advantage for the next decade. Switching to by-district electoral vote assignments means the same process would let them pick how the state voted in the next two to three Presidential elections as well.
Two states, Nebraska and Maine, already assign their votes this way, but neither is particularly competitive and neither controls more than five votes. Ohio has 18 votes and 16 districts. Republicans currently control the legislature, and that means they gave themselves multiple districts that cut across vast swaths of the state, while Democrats control a few districts clustered around urban areas. So yes, changing how electoral votes were assigned means it would no longer be a swing state, but only because no matter how the state voted, approximately two thirds of the vote would go to the Republican candidate.
It’s not clear why any state wouldn’t want to be a swing state. If you’re an elected official whose job is going to be more closely scrutinized, and who won’t be able to get away with blatant shenanigans, yeah, it makes sense. But from the perspective of a voter, it means you get disproportionate attention paid to you by both candidates, and the issues that affect you take on national importance. That’s a huge problem for American democracy, but allowing state legislatures to predetermine the winner only makes things less democratic.
It’s not clear where Husted will go with this, but it’s worth paying attention to that his first official reaction to the election is to suggest a plan that puts the state government’s thumb even more squarely on the scales of presidential politics.