California Fox affiliate misrepresented GOP's electoral-vote measure

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On KTTV, Fox's Los Angeles affiliate, correspondent John Schwada reported that "there are several new plans to further boost the power of California voters," referring to separate Republican and Democratic ballot initiatives that would change the way the state's electoral votes are awarded. But Schwada did not explain how the Republican initiative to award votes by congressional district would "boost the power of California voters." Under the state's current winner-take-all system, California currently awards 55 electoral votes to its winner, far more than any other state. Under the GOP plan, the state would give far fewer electoral votes to its winner. This, by definition, reduces the power of California voters.

On the September 12 edition of Fox 11 Ten O'Clock News on KTTV, Fox Broadcasting's Los Angeles affiliate, correspondent John Schwada reported that "there are several new plans to further boost the power of California voters," referring to separate Republican and Democratic ballot initiatives that would change the way the state's electoral votes are awarded. Schwada's statement echoed a claim he aired from Republican strategist Kevin Eckery, who said of the Republican initiative: "I think it'll make a huge difference in California, because for the first time, people are going to have to spend quality time here, and they're going to have to find out what Californians think about before they vote in Washington." But Schwada did not explain how the Republican initiative, which would award 53 of the state's 55 electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district and the remaining two votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, would "boost the power of California voters." Under the state's current winner-take-all system, California currently awards 55 electoral votes to its winner, far more than any other state. Under the GOP plan, it would be essentially impossible for the winner of California to gain 55 electoral votes. Indeed, if this plan had been in effect in 2004, California would have awarded Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) 33 electoral votes, with 22 electoral votes going to President Bush. Rather than providing a margin of 55 electoral votes to its winner, California would have provided an 11-vote margin -- reducing California's clout to that of Indiana.

Moreover, California has only three congressional districts that Kerry or Bush carried by 5 percentage points or fewer during the 2004 presidential election, and thus campaigns would presumably have little incentive "to spend quality time here," as Eckery claimed. It would make little sense for a presidential candidate "to spend quality time" in a state offering as few potentially competitive electoral votes as Wyoming or Delaware, instead of campaigning in "swing" states like Ohio (20 electoral votes) or Florida (27 electoral votes).

Further, despite opening his report by asserting that "there are several new plans to further boost the power of California voters" and closing it by stating that "the approval of any of these measures could trigger a California-sized political earthquake on the national scene," Schwada devoted only a single sentence to describing measures proposed by Democrats, asserting that "Democrats in the state Capitol have their own plan to give the state's huge voter base more impact, by eventually undoing the Electoral College system." By contrast, Schwada aired clips of Eckery and Democratic strategist Ari Swiller discussing the Republican-backed initiative.

Schwada described the Republican initiative as a "plan to end the winner-take-all system that currently awards all 52 [sic: 55] of the state's electoral votes to one candidate, the top vote-getter." He added: "The GOP alternative would split up the votes among the candidates, roughly based on how much of the popular vote they got." However, while Schwada asserted that the plan would "boost the power of California's voters," and Eckery said that the initiative would force candidates to "spend quality time here," according to a Media Matters for America analysis of data from the Almanac of American Politics, published by the nonpartisan National Journal Group, only three California congressional districts were carried by 5 percentage points or fewer in 2004, providing presidential candidates little reason to extensively campaign in the state if electors were chosen by district rather than statewide:

CD

% Kerry

% Bush

% Diff

CD

% Kerry

% Bush

% Diff

Statewide

54

44

10

27

39

59

20

1

60

38

22

28

71

28

43

2

37

62

25

29

61

37

24

3

41

58

17

30

66

33

33

4

37

61

24

31

77

22

55

5

61

38

23

32

62

37

25

6

70

28

42

33

83

16

67

7

67

32

35

34

69

30

39

8

85

14

71

35

79

20

59

9

86

13

73

36

59

40

19

10

59

40

19

37

74

25

49

11

45

54

9

38

65

34

31

12

72

27

45

39

59

40

19

13

71

28

43

40

39

60

21

14

68

30

38

41

37

62

25

15

63

36

27

42

37

62

25

16

63

36

27

43

58

41

17

17

66

33

33

44

40

59

19

18

50

49

1

45

43

56

23

19

38

61

23

46

42

57

25

20

51

48

3

47

49

50

1

21

34

65

31

48

40

58

18

22

31

68

37

49

36

63

27

23

58

40

18

50

44

55

11

24

43

56

13

51

53

46

7

25

40

59

19

52

38

61

23

26

44

55

11

53

61

38

23

Indeed, as San Francisco Chronicle editorial page editor John Diaz wrote in a September 9 column:

So clear is the partisan bent of these districts -- by design, with the assistance of sophisticated computer modeling -- that it's hard to imagine that more than a few would truly be up for grabs in any presidential election.

In reality, if California were to apportion electors by congressional district, its current prize of 55 electoral votes suddenly would be diminished to a competition for perhaps five electors (equivalent to Idaho or West Virginia) at the most.

Further, Tony Quinn, a former Republican consultant and the co-editor of the California Target Book, "a nonpartisan analysis of legislative and congressional elections," wrote an August 12 Sacramento Bee op-ed arguing that "Republicans have a sound public policy argument for this change," but admitted that "California's congressional districts are heavily gerrymandered to favor one party or the other" and that "[t]wenty are drawn to be safely Republican."

As Media Matters documented, on-screen text during a report on the August 23 edition of Fox News Live identified Eckery as "pro-reform" and Swiller as "anti-reform." But contrary to Fox's characterization of the two sides as "pro" and "anti" reform, Eckery has criticized the Democratic initiatives, which would also "change the way we elect a president in America."

From the September 12 edition of FOX affiliate KTTV's Fox 11 Ten 'O Clock News:

SCHWADA: Plus, there are several new plans to further boost the power of California voters. But that has Republicans and Democrats at each other's throats.

SWILLER: I can guarantee you, whatever it costs to defeat this initiative will be spent. It's a Karl Rove-like sneaky attack for sure.

SCHWADA: California Democrats are outraged by a Republican-backed plan to end the winner-take-all system that currently awards all 52 [sic: 55] of the state's electoral votes to one candidate, the top vote-getter. The GOP alternative would split up the electoral vote among the candidates, roughly based on how much of the popular vote they got. Republicans want their plan on the June 2008 ballot, hoping to significantly affect the November presidential election.

ECKERY: I think it'll make a huge difference in California, because for the first time, people are going to have to spend quality time here, and they're going to have to find out what Californians think about before they vote in Washington. We're going to make people actually run campaigns in California.

SCHWADA: But Democrats call it a Republican power grab.

SWILLER: This is definitely an effort to sidetrack an election in California.

CLINTON: I've taken them on, and we've beaten them.

SCHWADA: The Democratic opposition, no surprise. After all, the Democrats, under existing rules, would seem to have a lock on all of California's electoral votes. And they don't want to share any of them with the Republicans. Democrats in the state Capitol have their own plan to give the state's huge voter base more impact, by eventually undoing the Electoral College system. No doubt, the approval of any of these measures could trigger a California-sized political earthquake on the national scene. In Los Angeles, I'm John Schwada, Fox 11 News.

Posted In
Elections, Election Law
Network/Outlet
FOX Broadcasting Company
Stories/Interests
California Initiative
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.