A rule change that could lock Republican 2016 victory

A flag-emblazoned sign stands outside a voting booth in Connecticut. Image copyright Getty Images

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One of the less publicised results of the sweeping victories Republicans achieved in mid-term elections last week was that they now control the government in 24 states.

Not only does this have a significant effect on the day-to-day lives of the states' citizens, it also opens the possibility to an entirely legal move that could virtually ensure that a Republicans wins the White House in 2016.

To understand why, you first have to know a little bit about how US presidents are elected. Each state is apportioned a certain number of electoral "votes" based on the number of seats in the House they have plus the number of senators (two). Consequently, states with larger populations have more influence on who becomes president.

California (55), Texas (38) and Florida (29), for instance, are electoral prizes. Low-population states like Delaware, Wyoming and Montana, on the other hand, merit little attention, with only three votes apiece.

Almost all of these states give their electoral votes based on a winner-take-all system. A candidate receiving 50.1% of the vote in New York, for instance, will garner the state's 29 votes. Collect 270 total votes, and the presidency is assured.

As the National Review's Jim Geraghty explains, however, there is no constitutional requirement that states allot their electoral votes this way. They could do it based on a simple vote in the statehouse. They could even, legally, decide to apportion them based on a coin flip, or whichever candidate is taller.

Both Maine and Nebraska, for instance, divvy their votes based on the winner of individual congressional districts.

In 2008, this meant that Barack Obama received one of Nebraska's five electoral votes, thanks to winning the congressional district around Omaha.

So what's to stop Republicans in total control of a big state that is an important key to a Democrat's presidential calculus - such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania or Florida - from changing the rules? With enough political will, nothing.

Geraghty analyses what it would have meant in 2012's presidential election.

"In Michigan, Obama won all 16 of the state's electoral votes; if the Republican 2016 nominee won all the currently GOP-held House districts, he would get nine and the Democrat would get seven," he writes.

If enough Obama states had done it this way, Mitt Romney would be in the Oval Office

In the past, there's always been the fear that if one party tried this manoeuvre, the other would follow suit in states where a electoral change would be more favourable to their candidate. But there are currently zero reliably conservative presidential states in Democratic control. And prospects for that changing in some big, reliably conservative prize, like Texas, seem remote.

The Republicans, in other words, hold all the cards.

Geraghty notes that state legislators may be reluctant to make this change because it would lessen their importance as key presidential battlegrounds.

And Vox's Matthew Yglesias points out that this idea isn't exactly new - Republicans in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have floated the idea and pulled back after sharp criticism for electoral gamesmanship.

"It's just an idea that so massively violates the established norms of American politics that nobody's gone through with it," he writes.

Republicans have been emboldened by their mid-term success, however. And they know that the electorate in 2016 will be more favourable to Democrats than the voters in this year's low-turnout mid-terms.

With the possibility of total control of the US government within grasp, is it so unlikely to think that today's Republican Party - at least in a state or two - might consider it a risk worth taking?

Cuba

Trafficked humans not a gift from Cuba - While Cuban doctors are being celebrated for their Ebola work in Africa, few are looking at the circumstances under which those doctors are being sent, argues Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal.

The doctors are not a gift from Cuba, O'Grady says, but are trafficked human beings. According to DW, Germany's international broadcaster, Havana earns some $7.6b (£4.8b) annually from its export of healthcare workers - money that is supposed to go to Cuban workers' salaries, but is withheld by the state.

"Cuban doctors are not forced at gunpoint to become expat slaves, but they are given offers they cannot refuse," states the article. "As Cuban doctor Antonio Guedes, who now lives in exile in Madrid, told the German DW, 'Whoever does not cooperate may lose his job, or at least his position or his son will not get a place at university.' As with the workers in Curacao, the regime keeps healthcare workers under constant surveillance and confiscates their passports. Something about that doesn't sound voluntary."

Russia

An Affair to Remember, and Regret - The New York Times's Roger Cohen thinks the US and Russia may be having an affair.

"It goes like this," he writes. "Vladimir Putin's Russia makes nice over an Iran nuclear deal. In return, the United States turns a blind eye to the big Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border and in areas under the control of Moscow-backed rebel separatists."

Cohen doesn't suggest a formal Iran-Ukraine trade-off between Mr Obama and Mr Putin, but that the Russian leader has a keen eye for American weakness and an exquisite sense of timing.

"The abrupt flaring of new fighting in eastern Ukraine, and the abrupt Russian readiness to help on Iran ahead of the 24 November deadline for nuclear talks, are not a mere coincidence. They are part of a Russian strategy and, for now, the United States is playing along."

Oman

US watching for a friendly successor to the sultan - Omani Sultan Qaboos Bin Said is said to have colon cancer, and rumours suggest his condition may be grave, reports Bilal Y Saab of Foreign Affairs. The sultan has personally led an effort to modernise Oman and raise its standard of living and regional profile, so US officials are concerned that the next leader might be less interested in a strategic partnership with their nation.

"Indeed, Oman has long had tremendous strategic significance for Washington - although, unusually for the region, not because of its oil," writes Saab. "Rather, it provides a rare regional example of domestic tranquillity, cosmopolitanism, religious tolerance and skilful diplomacy."

The Sultan has a plan of succession, but any number of changes - including denied access to Seeb International Airport or the Strait of Hormuz - would have major consequences for US military strategy in the region.

Nigeria

Threats on two fronts in Ebola-stricken West Africa - Nigeria's fight against polio, including trained health workers and ready facilities, prepared the country to deal with Ebola, argues NPR's Joanne Silberner. She cautions that the fight against polio is not yet won, however, and missing the symptoms could mean a second crisis for those countries already dealing with Ebola.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone didn't take part in an Africa-wide campaign to immunise against polio earlier this fall. "One can't argue with that," says World Health Organization spokeswoman Sona Bari. "Countries need to be able to muster whatever health services they have in order to respond to the Ebola outbreak."

Silberner reports missing a single case could send polio numbers ballooning, however. "If we take our eye off the ball, we're up to 200,000 cases a year in the next 10 years," says Carol Pandak, global director of Rotary International's Polio Plus Program.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Ukrainian commentators react to reports that ceasefire in the eastern portion of the country may be in danger of collapse.

"One should not rule out the beginning of a full-fledged war. Both sides are dissatisfied with the results of the truce, while the demarcation line agreed by them is yet to materialise." - Editorial in Vesti.

"The enemy is provoking Ukraine to resume active military action, hoping to create a [land] corridor to Crimea." - Editorial in Ukrayina Moloda.‎

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