GOP Fights To Undermine Majority Rule

[ Posted Wednesday, May 29th, 2024 – 15:43 UTC ]

I realize that there is big legal news breaking today on two fronts -- to wit: the jury in the first criminal case against Donald Trump beginning their deliberations, and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's "What are you going to do about it, huh?" letter to Democrats in Congress (where he refused to recuse himself from any cases dealing with the January 6th insurrection or election cases concerning Donald Trump) -- but I am not going to comment on either of them (yet). Instead, I think an extreme anti-democratic idea in Texas needs highlighting, mostly for the brazen and shameless nature of it.

Last weekend, the Texas Republican Party met and approved their party platform for the year. It was chock-full of all the expected culture-war firebreathing, but there was one provision in it which is just breathtaking in its disregard for the majority of votes winning elections. Texas has long been wistfully viewed by Democrats as an enticing candidate for flipping red to blue, but this has so far not come to pass in any meaningful way whatsoever. Democrats get close to unseating people such as Senator Ted Cruz, but always seem to fall just short of doing so in statewide races. This appears to be worrying the Republicans, as evidenced by what they are now proposing.

Here is the text of their proposal (from an article in Salon, to give credit where it is due):

The State Legislature shall cause to be enacted a State Constitutional Amendment to add the additional criteria for election to a statewide office to include the majority vote of the counties with each individual county being assigned one vote allocated to the popular majority vote winner of each individual county.

Got that? They essentially want to create a state-level Electoral College, although one that would only essentially allow the Senate to even have a say. Even in the non-democratic Electoral College, population counts (not completely, since while House seats are proportional to the population of each state, Senate seats are not).

Here is what this would mean, if enacted:

It's worth fleshing out how ridiculous the idea is. For one thing, there are a lot of very big, very empty counties in Texas, which has 254 such subdivisions. The 127 least-populous counties are home to about 916,000 people, a total that is only 3 percent of the statewide population. There are seven counties that, by themselves, have more residents than those 127 counties. But even if a candidate won all seven of those counties (and the 14.8 million people who live in them), she could be defeated if her opponent won those 127 smallest counties and one more. And that means a Republican: Those smallest counties backed Trump by an average of 59 percentage points in 2020.

Here is a slightly different calculation of what it would mean (emphasis in original):

In the 2020 election, 11,315,056 votes were cast for president in Texas. Fifty percent plus one of the votes cast in the smallest 128 counties (almost all of which Trump won) produces a total of 191,978 votes. Which means that under the GOP proposal, a candidate could win a statewide race with less than 2 percent of the vote.

That's right: You could get blown out 98%-2% and become governor, attorney general, or any of the other statewide offices. The candidates who did this would inevitably be Republicans, because they'd be the ones winning all those small rural counties. Which of course is the point.

Of course, both of those calculations have a slight reductio ad absurdum flavor to them, since any Republican candidate in Texas who wins a majority of the (mostly-rural) counties is not going to get completely shut out in the rest of the state. Both of these examples assume that the Democrat in the race wins 100 percent of all the other votes in the state, which is patently ridiculous (it still is Texas, after all). But while the examples take things to the extreme, what they plainly show is that no Democrat will ever win a statewide race using these rules, period.

Which, as the second example points out, is exactly the point. When your statewide majority is threatened by people from other states moving in (mostly to the urban and even suburban counties with large populations), then it is obviously time to move the goalposts on how your state's democracy works.

Of course, this is just a pie-in-the-sky daydream in a party platform -- it hasn't actually happened yet, it probably won't happen any time soon, and even if it did it would get immediately challenged in federal court. But it is interesting to see where Republican thinking is headed, in terms of denying a majority of the populace their choice in any election.

This isn't the only attempt at making voting rules anti-democratic by the Republican Party, either. Other states have taken on the pesky reality that ballot initiatives allow their voters to institute changes that Republicans don't like with just a majority of the popular statewide vote. This, as far as Republicans are concerned, leads to all sorts of unwanted outcomes -- like the voters not just legalizing abortion but actually taking the power to change the law permanently out of the state legislature's hands. Or approving Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid. Or hiking the state's minimum wage. Or legalizing recreational marijuana. There are all kinds of issues where Republican orthodoxy is incredibly unpopular, and so they are trying to wall the state legislatures (and state constitutions) off from voters taking matters into their own hands.

Ohio, when faced with an abortion amendment on the ballot which wound up enshrining abortion rights in the state's constitution, scrambled to hold a special election before the abortion vote where the voters could raise the bar for any such measure to pass from a simple majority to a supermajority of 60 percent. That measure failed, and the abortion-rights measure passed, thankfully. But Florida -- where another abortion rights measure is on the ballot in November -- already had raised their bar to 60 percent, so even with an overwhelming majority it still might fail.

Missouri's state legislature is also trying an end-run around majoritarian rule. They are attempting a similar thing as the Texas proposal, but it is nowhere near as blatant and nowhere near as far-reaching. Instead of all statewide offices, it would only deal with ballot initiatives. But it would mandate that any initiative would have to win not just a majority of votes statewide (as things stand now) but would have to win in five of the state's eight congressional districts (it'd have to win a majority of those districts, to put it another way). Again, just like in Texas (although to a far lesser degree), this would mean a slim minority in the rural districts could prevent anything from passing by getting more votes in the urban areas. As little as 23 percent of the voters could nix an idea approved by 77 percent (again: this is the most extreme calculation of the possibilities, but even so...).

This proposal was killed -- for the time being -- by a Democratic filibuster in the state senate. But the Republicans will likely try again, because it is really the only way they can see of preventing policies they do not approve of from being passed directly by the citizens of the state. They want minority-rule and they don't care how they go about ensuring it.

The Electoral College is one of the most anti-democratic features of American government, and it is enshrined in the Constitution (the second-most, the Senate filibuster, is not). It allows presidents to lose the national popular vote and yet still win the race -- which happened in 2000 and in 2016. Both times, a Republican won the Electoral College while a Democrat won the popular vote. Republicans have only won one presidential popular vote in the past 35 years, in fact (2004). If it weren't for the Electoral College, Al Gore would have become president in 2000 and Hillary Clinton would have become the first woman president in 2016. Republicans know this. Rather than somehow try to change their ideology so that it is more popular to more voters, they rely on the Electoral College to even give them a chance of winning presidential elections.

This has worked so well for them at a national level that they are now considering adapting this anti-majoritarian feature into state governmental elections. They are free to make this attempt because of another anti-majoritarian feature of our government: gerrymandering "safe" districts. Republicans enjoy large majorities in some states where they barely manage to get a majority of statewide votes -- because the districts are so gerrymandered as to be impossible for the Democrats to win back the statehouse. And in some red states -- Ohio, Missouri, Texas -- they are actively plotting to cement their hold on the reins of power even when faced with a majority of their voters who do not agree with them.

It's an arcane sort of issue, to be sure. Few people are even aware of such efforts and it can be a rather complicated thing to understand -- which Republicans are also counting on. Tinkering with the rules to ensure your side wins seems to be a more enticing thing for them to do than to actually convince a majority of voters to support them and their ideas. Hopefully the plank added to the Texas Republican Party platform will remain no more than a partisan pipe-dream, but it's worth keeping an eye on these efforts because if even one of them succeeds it is a near-certainly that the scheme will then be attempted in other red states -- especially those where the GOP is in danger of losing power.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “GOP Fights To Undermine Majority Rule”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    in other news, the sun rose this morning. some experts claim this phenomenon to have occurred in "the east" while others suggest that the myth of the sun rising is in fact an optical illusion caused by the earth's rotation. the only thing that all scientists seem to agree on is the endless value of pie.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    They are free to make this attempt because of another anti-majoritarian feature of our government: gerrymandering "safe" districts.

    And they are free to continue the racial gerrymandering despite Amendments to the United States Constitution that forbid it because of another anti-majoritarian feature of our government: Article III of the constitution which vests judicial power in nine unelected judges who are appointed for life and have vested upon themselves inordinate power over policy and legislation to the point our "co-equal" branches of government are eroding along with the rights of citizens.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Time for citizens to unite!?

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    I don't believe in democracy.

    First of all, the word is usually described as meaning "the rule of the people". But there is no such thing as the people. There are lots of individual people, who disagree with each other. If you want to have something you can pass off as "the rule of the people", you have to decide who counts and who doesn't, until you've narrowed the category far enough to get to something that there can intelligibly be such a thing as the rule of it. The way to narrow it down is simple and obvious. It's just that different answers are the obviously correct simple answer according to different people. Anyone who lives in a city isn't really a person, according to Republicans, just a piece of an undifferentiated mass of the unworthy. Anyone wealthier or more educated than you isn't really a person, according to populists, just a member of the elite, the enemies of the people. Or only the proletariat is the people, and the proletariat is most essentially the vanguard of the proletariat, and the vanguard of the proletariat is basically me (anyone else making a similar claim is a counterrevolutionary spreading false consciousness). One's neighborhood, one's ethnic group, whatever. It's not a bug that can just be fixed. It's an inevitable result of using the basic idea. We need a better idea.

    The obvious possibility is majoritarianism. But once again, there is no such thing as the majority. There are exponentially many possible majorities, and they disagree just as much as individuals do. Even if we avoid that by picking one arbitrarily (and accept that our rule will be equally arbitrary), it's not a good option. Majorities pulled together by the use of money are unpleasantly close to just being plutocracy with extra steps. Majorities pulled together by ethnonationalist demagoguery are worse.

    What I believe in is stable institutions that give everyone enough ability to influence policy that, no matter who you are or what policies you want, you can do better by working through the established institutions than by trying to subvert, circumvent, or overthrow them. If there are any such possible institutions, and any ability to choose among them, then I favor systems that enact written laws, have a functioning judicial systems, make reasonable guesses about which allegedly inherent rights really are inherent rights, do relatively well at preventing violations of those putative rights, and so on. Pretty much the same list of substantive stuff that people who believe in democracy tend to be in favor of. I just don't include the democracy part, and want to go with whatever works instead. 'Cause what we've got isn't working all that well, and there are a lot of other possibilities.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    fascism works great. the trains run on time and everything.

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