If Republicans want to make every vote truly equal, it’s time for them to support the end of the Electoral College.
LANSING, Mich.—Every Michigander’s vote should count, and count equally. But a plan co-sponsored by a Republican state lawmaker actually does the opposite, working to the benefit of presidential candidates from their party.
This proposal comes as Michigan’s sway on the national stage continues to shrink. Though Michigan has been growing in terms of population, it has been growing far slower than other states. So when the Census results were announced Monday, Michigan again lost a seat in Congress and a vote in the Electoral College. Now with only 13 seats in the House of Representatives and 15 electoral votes, Michiganders are grappling with how to react to the changes.
And with Michiganders facing 39 Republican proposals designed to curtail voting rights in the state, losing representation in Washington is a pain point for discussions about voting rights in the state. Even responding to this loss, however, has become a partisan battle over how to make voices heard.
Splitting the Electoral Vote
Presidential elections in Michigan are currently decided based on the popular vote, meaning the candidate who wins the most total votes wins all the state’s electoral votes. But in April, two Republicans in the Legislature introduced a pair of bills that would split Michigan’s electoral votes along the lines of the new congressional districts.
The sponsors claim that this system would give rural Michiganders a stronger voice in elections because the current system, they say, allows metropolitan areas, like Detroit, which are majority-Black, to decide elections. Essentially, the argument Republicans are making is that by being counted equally, Detoriters’ votes make winning the election too challenging for Republican candidates for president. So they propose diminishing the voices of Detroit in order to give more electoral advantage to Republicans.
This proposal mimics the “safe states” problem of the Electoral College itself. It would create areas within Michigan that could be taken for granted as electoral votes either for Democrats or Republicans rather than taking the popular vote of the entire state to be the voice of Michigan.
Take, for example, the 2020 presidential election. Had the proposal been in place then, it would have split the electoral votes evenly between Biden and former President Donald Trump. The result? Invalidating the votes of Michiganders, explains state Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth).
“Put simply, isn’t the whole purpose of this bill to ensure that the candidate receiving fewer votes in Michigan nevertheless receives electoral votes and thereby nullifies the votes of tens of thousands of Michigan voters?” Koleszar asked the bill’s sponsors during a hearing.
But one of those sponsors, state Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), denied that partisan advantage was the intent.
“I’m not trying to rig the system for any political party—obviously, both of them have massive flaws—but we’ve got the situation in Michigan where a lot of people aren’t heard, and they don’t feel as though they’re being heard, and that their vote doesn’t count,” LaFave said.
But their vote does count; there are just more votes on the other side of the aisle. Rather than come to terms with that reality, the bill seeks to limit how many Democratic votes are counted. Regardless of how heavily Detroiters favor one candidate, the influence they have will be drastically reduced.
The policy is consistent with other Republican-backed bills designed to disenfranchise voters likely to be more progressive.
Thanks to efforts like the independent redistricting commission, which seeks to redraw the voting maps for the next ten years, it’s hard to know how the Republican proposal would play out precisely. Michiganders have the opportunity to break the influence of gerrymandering and totally shake up the map more than losing one seat in Congress otherwise might. Designing those districts to weaken partisan advantages makes knowing how they’d vote in the 2024 election harder.
Even so, the proposal still has deep problems far beyond partisan advantage.
Every Michigander Should Be Heard
Under the current system, a voter in Detroit has exactly as much influence in choosing the president as a voter in Iron Mountain. They are both one vote, cast for the president, and the winner of the contest in Michigan wins Michigan’s electoral votes.
Where this makes LaFave and others bristle is this means regions with more people have more influence, because if all votes are weighted equally, places with more people obviously have more say over the outcome of an election. In practice, it isn’t that LaFave’s constituents aren’t being heard, it’s just that more people disagreed with them than agreed with them in 2020.
So, he proposes creating something of a local Electoral College in Michigan, where each district has votes rather than each individual Michigander. Despite seeming more democratic to LaFave, this proposal imitates the undemocratic flaws in the Electoral College as a whole.
For starters, not all congressional districts are created equally. Before the power to draw congressional districts was taken away from politicians in 2018, the deeply partisan designs of those districts would’ve caused problems for fairness. A district could be designed in a way that intentionally split up voters of one party to advantage the other, for instance.
Humans are fallible, even with an independent redistricting process that could occur accidentally, giving some districts an unfair partisan advantage based solely on their borders.
But there is a change Michigan could make to improve the election process as a whole. Instead of creating another Electoral College, Michigan could help tear it down.
When Every Single Vote Counts Equally
If the argument is that by looking at a smaller section of people the individual voice is heard more, then the answer is abolishing electoral votes altogether.
Within the system of laws that define and support the Electoral College, there’s a way for states to give the national popular vote the power to decide the presidency. The same Constitutional authority that allows states like Michigan to break down electoral votes by district, as Republicans purpose, also lets those states choose how electors are decided.
Rather than breaking down electoral power to arbitrary regions in the state like congressional districts, why not put that power in the hands of the people directly? By doing so, Michigan could play a part in making every single vote matter on the national stage.And if enough states say, “Electors for our state must vote for the winner of the national popular vote” and invalidate and punish faithless electors, the winner of the Electoral College will always be the winner of the national popular vote.
Electoral votes in the current system award a number of points to a candidate based on what states the candidate got the most votes in, with the first candidate to get 270 points winning the election. No vote is directly counted in American elections, rather it is used to determine what points a candidate is awarded. But since every state has at least 3 points to award, not every state’s votes matter to the same degree.
The Legislature can take a simpler approach than imitating that system in Michigan, instead recognizing all votes as equal and joining the effort to retire the Electoral College altogether. Rather than debate a bill that would do further harm to a deeply undemocratic institution, the Michigan Legislature could sign on to the National Popular Vote Compact and bring the inevitable end of the Electoral College closer to fruition.
And it’s already gaining steam. The recent addition of Colorado to the compact has nearly 200 of the 270 electoral votes committed to it that it needs to replace the Electoral College. Michigan could bring it 15 votes closer.
The fact that the option to make every single vote in America count equally exists and is passed over makes it hard not to see how LeFave’s goal of making every voice in Michigan heard is an illusion, at best, and ultimately about giving a partisan advantage in the electoral college to Republicans.