Virginia state Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights lawyer and the first black mayor of the city of Richmond Va., did what one would expect somebody like him to do on Inauguration Day. He traveled to Washington to see President Obama being sworn in. But what happened in his absence from Virginia was unexpected.
The 20 Republican senators in a chamber that had a like number of Democrats, hurriedly brought a bill to the floor and in 40 minutes passed it on a vote of 20 to 19 to redistrict state Senate districts. This plan will increase the possibility of more Republican senate districts.
This dirty political trick by his GOP colleagues, reportedly even "surprised" Gov. Bob McDonnell. He said: "I don’t think that’s a good way to do business." It remains to be seen whether the Republican majority in the House will pass this measure and if the governor will sign it.
The political irony is that "mischiefs" by political parties was one of the big fears that Virginia’s distinguished Founding Father James Madison had at the founding of this nation. He was not alone. John Adams expressed "dread" about a "division of the republic with two great parties, each arranged under its leader --[with] measures in opposition to each other."
Adams’s fear has been realized today. There is a major political division of the country on the national level. The Republican Party is led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. The Democrats are led by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Each side has been deadlocked over dealing with most of the major issues facing this country.
McConnell in his reaction to the president’s inaugural speech indicated this division is likely to continue. He said that the president’s speech was not designed to "bring us together." He said that we must first deal with the national debt and deficit. His position to deal with that issue is to cut spending without any tax increases. The Democratic position is to cut spending with tax increases. Both sides seem to be digging in for another stalemate over resolving their differences.
These differences between the party leaders seem to have caused personal animosity between the president and McConnell and Boehner. The GOP leaders have reportedly refused several invitations to events at the White House, from a private viewing of the movie "Lincoln" to informal gatherings. Another Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, was concerned with what he foresaw as "personal animosity" that would become associated with party politics.
While some of the founders of this country may have had the foresight to see the likely mischief, division and animosity that would result from a two major party political system, their clumsy presidential electoral system may result in the biggest political dirty trick played on a majority of American voters. Since the Republicans won control of a majority of state legislatures, they have been working at ways to cause Republicans to win elections by manipulating the electoral process. There was a concentrated move last year by these lawmakers in various states to try to keep voters they had identified as Democrats from voting places. Their tactics included limiting voting days and hours, the requirement of voter identifications, and misinformation and fear. These things were aimed at the poor and minorities who traditionally vote Democratic. These tricks did not foil the voter turnout to reelect President Obama.
Now there are plans afoot in the majority of these state legislatures, dominated by Republicans, to change how presidential electors are to be awarded in their states in future elections. Each state has the number of electors equal to the number of their congressional delegation, including the two senators. Currently all these presidential electors are awarded in many states to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in the state. Republicans in control of state legislatures have been busy at work gerrymandering U.S. representative districts into areas populated by Republican voters. This has resulted in more GOP House members being elected in states despite Democratic Party candidates in those states receiving a total of more votes than their GOP counterparts. This is how the Republicans have been able to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives.
Now the Republicans want to in essence use political trickery to elect GOP presidents. Here is how the new Republican dirty trick on a majority of American voters would work. If a presidential candidate wins a congressional district, the electoral vote would go to the candidate, potentially dividing each state’s electoral votes into Democratic and Republican pieces. Because Republicans have gerrymandered so many congressional districts in their favor over the years, they would automatically win a large number of electoral votes for their presidential candidate no matter how the candidate did in the state overall. The popular vote totals in each state would be rendered all but irrelevant.
If such a national system of awarding electors had been in place in the last election, some who have done the math say that Romney could have won, or it would have been a much closer election despite Obama winning of the popular vote by a big margin.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz, a Pittsfield lawyer, is a regular contributor to The Eagle.