Republican Bid to Alter Electoral Vote System Falters

A Republican push aimed at shifting electoral votes to the party’s future presidential candidates is stalling after a legislative committee in Virginia rejected such a change and Michigan’s governor voiced skepticism about the effort.

Virginia’s Senate Privileges and Elections Committee yesterday killed a bill to award electoral votes by congressional district. The measure would have ended a winner-take-all system used by 48 states to give all their electoral votes to the statewide popular vote winner in presidential races. The Republican-led panel voted 11-4 against the bill.

President Barack Obama, who won Virginia and its 13 electoral votes in carrying the state by four percentage points in the 2012 election, would have received four electoral votes under the measure.

In another blow to efforts to replace the winner-take-all method, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said he is skeptical of a Republican proposal in his state to adopt the congressional district system for allocating electoral votes.

“You don’t want to change the playing field so it’s an unfair advantage to someone, and in a lot of ways, we want to make sure we’re reflecting the vote of the people, and this could challenge that,” Snyder, a Republican, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line” yesterday. “I don’t think this is the appropriate time to really look at it.”

Similar moves to scrap the winner-take-all allocation in favor of a congressional district system are under consideration in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Obama’s Total

The push from Republican legislators to change the electoral vote allocation in their states comes after Obama was re-elected in November with 332 electoral votes to 206 for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Maine and Nebraska are the only states that don’t use the winner-take-all system.

Awarding electoral votes by congressional district generally would favor Republicans because Democrats are clustered in large metropolitan areas, while Republicans tend to be more spread out throughout the nation. Romney won at least 225 of the 435 congressional districts even though he trailed Obama nationwide by 5 million votes, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Changed Outcome

Romney, who won the popular vote in 24 of the 50 states, would have gotten more than the 270 electoral votes needed for victory if the 2012 election were re-run under a nationwide system of awarding one electoral vote for each congressional district won and two electoral votes for each state carried.

If just Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes, Michigan, with 16, Wisconsin, with 10, and Virginia made the changes that have been under consideration in each state, Obama would have won re-election with 296 electoral votes to 242 for Romney.

Although Republicans currently control the government in the four states, Democrats have prevailed in every presidential election in Pennsylvania and Michigan since 1992 and in Wisconsin since 1988. Virginia had been a Republican stronghold in presidential elections since 1968 until Obama carried it in 2008 and last year.

In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker hasn’t taken a position on adopting the congressional district system for allocating electoral votes. He has expressed concern that doing so may diminish his state’s importance as a politically competitive area that draws visits from presidential candidates.

“I’m not embracing it,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Jan. 26.

Individual Choice

In Pennsylvania, the bill to alter the allocation system was introduced by seven Republicans on Jan. 14 and awaits action by a state legislative committee.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Jan. 26 he was “pretty intrigued” by the proposals, and that it’s an issue for individual state legislatures to decide.

Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and onetime RNC chairman, opposes the idea.

“I don’t think anybody can predict with any form of precision who it’ll help from this election to the next,” Barbour said in interview that aired last weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”

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