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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Jackson: Changing the Electoral College game

When it comes to competition, one fact – so old it can be found in the Old Testament – always applies: If the system you have can’t win the game, you have to figure out how to game the system.

Some would say that’s a clever way to define cheating, and to them we say: So David brought a slingshot to a match of hand-to-hand combat, and Goliath went down. Get over it already.

Nowadays, David’s unconventional tactic would be hailed as game-changing, and in America, we do adore game-changers, from Whitney and Bell to the Wright Brothers and Lindbergh to Jobs, Bezos and Cowell. And we never regarded any of them as cheats or hucksters.

All of which is another way of saying it’s time to give fresh eyes to an idea kicking around certain legislatures, Florida’s included, about how states apportion their Electoral College votes.

Just this moment, 48 states and the District of Columbia award all their presidential electors to the winner of the popular vote within their state. The exceptions – Maine and Nebraska – divvy electors by popular vote within their congressional districts, with the statewide vote determining the two at-large electors.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election, several states with Republican-majority legislatures and Republican governors took up consideration of variations on the Maine-Nebraska model. Come the spring, it seems Florida, the largest of the purplish states, will join the debate.

Just don’t get the idea, say the reformers, it has anything to do with the results of the last two presidential elections. (Wink-wink.) It’s absolutely coincidental (nudge-nudge) that these discussions are going on in GOP-dominated capitals in states that went twice for Barack Obama. (Cue the brothers of “Animal House.”)

Last month, citing fairness and more equal representation among Florida voters, Rep. Ray Pilon (PEEL-on), a Sarasota Republican, filed the bill that will kick-start our Legislature’s Electoral College review. Pilon proposes allotting electors by popular vote within each of Florida’s 27 congressional districts, with the two at-large votes going to the candidate who wins the larger share of those districts.

Not to put too opportunistic a point on it, under that scheme, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney takes 19 electors to President Obama’s 10. Applied nationwide, Romney easily wins the White House.

At this, certain Republicans cheer and Democrats growl. But assigning the proposed rule changes to what went before is a fool’s errand, like trying to tease out the results of basketball games played before the advent of the 3-point arc.

Simply put, change the rules and you change the strategy. Who knows how the Obama campaign, exquisitely designed to win one sort of election, would have responded to a district-by-district playing field?

The question should be whether the idea has merit, and, at least in the short term, ferreting that out will fall heavily on GOP legislators from Pasco County, especially Will Weatherford, the speaker from Wesley Chapel, and his presumed successor-once-removed, Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes.

Weatherford stands by his January pronouncement, when this first bubbled up. It’s still changing the rules of a football game after the third quarter, and he’s against it. Conceding he may get crosswise with the boss on this, Corcoran says he’s willing to entertain any policy discussion – health care, tax reform, electoral votes – that has as its goal expanding equity, “so that the little guy in Jackson County has as much influence as the big shots in Miami-Dade.”

We have come around to preferring Corcoran’s point of view. Distribution by congressional district (particularly districts that are “fair” by constitutional dictate) gets us nearer election by popular vote while preserving the Founders’ essential wisdom (regions are protected; factions are diminished) behind the Electoral College.

Importantly, it would energize turnout by the minority party in those states, such as California and Texas, where the statewide vote is a foregone conclusion.

Yep. Looking forward, never back, allocation-by-district would be a game changer. And you know how Americans love those.

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