BY PAUL GOLDMAN AND MARK J. ROZELL
Illegal immigrants—along with other noncitizens without the right to vote—may pick the 2016 presidential winner. Thanks to the unique math undergirding the Electoral College, the mere presence of 11-12 million illegal immigrants and other noncitizens here legally may enable them to swing the election from Republicans to Democrats.
The right to vote is intended to be a singular privilege of citizenship. But the 1787 Constitutional Convention rejected allowing the people to directly elect their President. The delegates chose instead our Electoral College system, under which 538 electoral votes distributed amongst the states determine the presidential victor. The Electoral College awards one elector for each U.S. Senator, thus 100 of the total, and D.C. gets three electors pursuant to the 23rd Amendment. Those electoral numbers are unaffected by the size of the noncitizen population. The same cannot be said for the remaining 435, more than 80 percent of the total, which represent the members elected to the House.
The distribution of these 435 seats is not static: they are reapportioned every ten years to reflect the population changes found in the census. That reallocation math is based on the relative “whole number of persons in each state,” as the formulation in the 14th Amendment has it. When this language was inserted into the U.S. Constitution, the concept of an “illegal immigrant,” as the term is defined today, had no meaning. Thus the census counts illegal immigrants and other noncitizens equally with citizens. Since the census is used to determine the number of House seats apportioned to each state, those states with large populations of illegal immigrants and other noncitizens gain extra seats in the House at the expense of states with fewer such “whole number of persons.”
This math gives strongly Democratic states an unfair edge in the Electoral College. Using citizen-only population statistics, American University scholar Leonard Steinhorn projects California would lose five House seats and therefore five electoral votes. New York and Washington would lose one seat, and thus one electoral vote apiece. These three states, which have voted overwhelming for Democrats over the latest six presidential elections, would lose seven electoral votes altogether. The GOP’s path to victory, by contrast, depends on states that would lose a mere three electoral votes in total. Republican stronghold Texas would lose two House seats and therefore two electoral votes. Florida, which Republicans must win to reclaim the presidency, loses one seat and thus one electoral vote.
But that leaves the electoral math only half done. The 10 House seats taken away from these states would then need to be reallocated to states with relatively small numbers of noncitizens. The following ten states, the bulk of which lean Republican, would likely gain one House seat and thus one additional electoral vote: Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.
By JEFFREY SONNENFELD
Iowa has gone Democratic six out of the last seven times. Michigan and Pennsylvania have both gone comfortably Democratic in every election since 1992. But five states—Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma—all went by double-digit margins to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. And Romney carried North Carolina by two percent while losing nationally by nearly four percent, a large difference. Likewise, despite solidly beating 2008 GOP nominee John McCain by seven percent nationally, President Obama eked out a bare 0.3 percent win in the Tar Heel State. The current Ohio polls also look promising for the right GOP nominee, and no Republican has ever won the Presidency without carrying the Buckeye State. There is no plausible statistical path for the Republican Party’s nominee to win an electoral majority without these states.
Accordingly, for analytic purposes, three of the states that would gain electoral votes are Democratic. The remaining seven are fairly put in the GOP column. Combining the two halves of the citizen-only population reapportionment, states likely in the Democratic column suffer a net loss of four electoral votes. Conversely the must-win Republican leaning states total a net gain of four electoral votes. These are the four electoral votes statistically cast by noncitizens.
U.S. elections have been decided by far narrower margins. One electoral vote decided the 1876 presidential election. A swing of three electoral votes in 2000 would have elected Al Gore. A glitch in the Electoral College system enabled Aaron Burr to come within one vote of winning the presidency over Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Though they can’t cast an actual ballot, we effectively allow noncitizens to have an indirect, and possibly decisive, say in choosing the President.
Three years ago, President Obama became the first Democrat in 76 years to win a second term with a repeat majority vote. Yet Romney still won two-dozen states with a total of 206 electoral votes. Based on current polling and historical trends, a credible GOP ticket right now must be considered likely to carry all the 24 Romney states and their 206 electoral votes. The key to Republican hopes to win 270 electoral votes next year therefore revolves around the three biggest swing states: Florida, Ohio and Virginia.
Yet a credible future GOP nominee has reason to be hopeful. Obama carried Florida last time by only 0.9 percent. Hillary Clinton suffers from an upside down image among Sunshine State voters, 37 percent having a favorable opinion but 57 percent holding a negative one in a recent poll. She is in a statistical tie with highly unpopular GOP hopeful Donald Trump and loses by 11 percent to former Governor Jeb Bush. Florida statistically should be the easiest of these key swing states for the GOP to win.