Texas GOP Supports a State Electoral College in Age of Polarization
Rising Star is a sleepy Texas town of 899 souls, surrounded by thousands of acres stretching to the horizon in a place that seems stuck in time.
Cowboy hats are as common here as raising cattle, and the metallic clang of pumpjacks spitting out oil remains commonplace.
Like many towns in West Texas, it has a town square with shuttered buildings and dark windows coated with dust from a constant wind. The Family Dollar and CEFCO Convenience stores are the happening places in Rising Star.
Though starkly populated, rural Texas consists of stalwart Republicans who believe in traditional values. They have been a counterweight to the deep blue urban cities of Texas, strung along the spine of Interstate 35 running from Gainsville to Laredo.
So, it is no wonder that the Texas GOP put creating a state electoral college on their wish list to counter the growing political might of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, with their millions of Democratic voters.
Retirees Grant Poynor, 72, and Sara McGowan Poynor, 67, grew up in Rising Star. Though Grant sees himself more as a libertarian, he told The Epoch Times he votes Republican with his wife.
Rural folks are concerned with economics now—the cost of gas that must sustain large pickups for long-distance chores of feeding cattle and hauling hay. Jobs to pay for housing, food, and utilities are needed. Beyond that, they vote on principles—the rule of law is fundamental to salt-of-the-earth Texans.
“It’s very important at this particular moment in time,” Poynor said, adding that the freedom to pursue life without government interference is key.
Ideas born in the urban world are foreign to him. Critical Race Theory flies in the face of Martin Luther King’s teachings—that people should be judged on merit, not their skin color. He doesn’t believe returning to segregation would benefit Texas or the country.
He said that forcing changes on society before it is ready poses another problem. Take electric cars— necessary or not, the nation isn’t yet ready for them in terms of infrastructure. He sees it as the latest escalation in the culture war that will cause more chaos and disruption.
In June, at the GOP’s state conference, delegates approved the idea of adding a state constitutional amendment creating an electoral college. It would consist of electors selected by the popular votes cast within each state senatorial district, who would then elect all statewide office holders.
James Wesolek, a spokesman for the Texas GOP, told The Epoch Times the plank in the platform was first introduced in 2020 when delegates from around the state voted to include it in the Republican agenda.
It is a sign of the polarization of rural versus urban in politics that has become more striking during the past two presidential election cycles.
“The Democrats have a demographic advantage, but the Republicans have a geographic advantage,” Sean Evans, a political science professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, told The Epoch Times.
Evans said the polarization of rural and urban voters has been building since the 1980s. With globalization, many manufacturing jobs have left for cheaper labor, and even family farms—unable to compete with corporate farming—have vanished from the rural landscape.
“So you have this idea that rural areas are feeling left behind,” he said. “The idea is people in the rural areas don’t think people in the urban areas understand them.”
Cities have become a mix of poor minorities and highly educated affluent workers. While the poor push for economic support, the wealthy lobby for progressive social policies, he added.
Workers in rural areas don’t hear the Democrats offering jobs or economic support as young people leave the country for the cities.
Evans said they see the few moderate Democrats, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, come under heavy attack by progressives in his party. He explained that the left-wing attacks Manchin because progressives don’t have a background in rural America.
The educated elites who see high gas prices as a segway into electric vehicles to save the climate seem oblivious that rural residents must travel greater distances for basics such as gas and groceries.
Electric vehicles would not help rural residents as much as urbanites, but people living in the country may feel the sting of high gas prices more than urbanites.
“Rural people are saying we are suffering too; what are you doing to help me?” Evans said.
But more than anything, rural voters don’t like how they are characterized. He said that when progressive Democrats label conservative issues as “backward” and conservatives themselves “bigots,” it is not surprising that they don’t support Democratic candidates.
“It leads them to feel Democrats think less of them,” Evans said. “Neither side really understands the other, and so you get an us-versus-them kind of politics.”
Even Republicans fall short in understanding their base. Wealthy GOP businessmen who win office tend to fall back on a formula of tax cuts and smaller government. Former President Donald Trump ran on a populous message but governed with tax cuts too, he said.
The polarization has enabled Democrats to win statewide elections by getting a massive number of votes in a metropolitan area, while Republicans win statewide due to a large number of conservative voters outside of cities, he said.
The idea of a state electoral college voting system modeled after the federal one isn’t new. But would it likely survive a court challenge? Evans thinks not, pointing to a Georgia law eventually overturned, where winning primaries was based on winning counties instead of votes.
The Georgia Legislature, dominated by the Democratic Party at the time, passed the Neill Primary act in 1917, establishing the county unit system that lasted into the early 1960s.
Georgia’s 159 counties were classified as urban, town, or rural, with little regard for population differences.
Metropolitan counties were defined by the eight most populous, with town counties designated as the next 30 in population size. The remaining 121 were considered rural.
The urban counties received six unit votes each, the town counties received four unit votes each, and the rural counties received two unit votes each.
A candidate who won a plurality of votes in a county received the county’s unit votes. A candidate had to win most of the unit votes to win the primary. The result was candidates favored by rural voters often defeated urban candidates.
“Basically, that was meant to minimize the impact of Atlanta,” Evans said. “This is similar.”
Hans von Spakovsky, an election law expert with the Heritage Foundation, said the issue is an interesting one that would likely end up in court if Texans pursued such a plan.
He pointed to Alabama’s Reynolds v. Sims case, where the state continued to use population numbers from the 1900 census into the 1960s without redistricting its legislative seats.
The lawsuit alleged discrimination against voters in counties whose populations had grown proportionately far more than others since the 1900 census.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that refusing to update district lines violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection provision of one person, one vote.
Alabama leaders knew if they redrew the district lines, the voting power would shift to urban areas, Von Spakovsky said.
Critics, though, argue watering down voting power as discriminatory in nature.
Lincoln Mitchell, a former Columbia University professor specializing in democracies and government, said Southern states have a long history of weakening the minority vote. He said that Texas is a purple state, but gerrymandering and “voter suppression” efforts have kept it red.
What cannot be overlooked is that people of different races and religions are concentrated in urban areas, he said. Meanwhile, rural white Americans have become a minority.
“Why should white rural voters get special privileges?” he asked. “We know why—because it’s a country built to give white voters special privileges.”