Electoral College Change Could Weaken Northern Virginia's Influence

Petersen: Republican effort to end winner-take-all system is 'anti-Democratic'

A Republican-led effort to end the Old Dominion's traditional winner-take-all approach to picking a president has drawn national attention and could weaken the influence of voters in urban areas like Northern Virginia.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Charles Carrico, a Galax Republican, would divvy up electoral college votes based on who wins each of this state's 11 congressional districts.

Carrico has said that the current system casts aside the wishes of rural voters and that his bill is an attempt to even the playing field, according to the Roanoke Times. More broadly, proponents in the GOP say the new system would better reflect the popular vote.

The bill heads to the full Senate Privileges and Elections Committee next week. Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, came out against the measure Friday afternoon.

"We've had a winner-take-all system that's really the essence of democracy — the majority wins," said state Sen. Chap Petersen, a Fairfax Democrat who voted against the measure while it was in subcommittee.

Petersen said while the electoral college system has at times led to "idiosyncratic results," it has worked in most instances for more than 200 years.

Under the current system, Virginia has 13 electoral college votes and all of them go to the presidential candidate who wins the majority of the vote. The proposed plan would set aside two electoral votes for the overall winner, and the rest would be awarded by congressional district.

Maine and Nebraska are currently the only two states to award electoral college votes by congressional district. But efforts are under way in Virginia and three other states where Republicans control the legislatures to follow suit.

Petersen called the measure "anti-Democratic."

"If congressional districts were drawn by a non-partisan commission and evenly — or even roughly — balanced between parties or the population, I'd have much less heartburn about this. Maybe I'd even support it," he said.

But unlike state lines, which often were drawn based on natural geographic boundaries, congressional districts are gerrymandered to give one party an edge, he said.

In Virginia, for instance, Republicans control — and in November, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried — seven congressional districts. Democrats hold four.

Slate's Dave Weigel breaks it down like this: Had the proposed changes been in effect in 2012, Romney would have walked away with nine electoral votes; President Barack Obama, four. And that's despite the president winning the popular vote in Virginia by about 150,000 votes.

"You can already see the public backlash building. It came in the wake of the redistricting fiasco Monday," Petersen told Patch. He said he's talked to Republicans privately who say the proposal is not a good idea.

"This thing is starting to catch what we call down here a little bit of a fever," he said.

The move has Virginia once again in the crosshairs of late-night comedy, while others are just downright mad. David Graham wrote in The Atlantic, "It's not like the GOP's standing with minority and urban voters can get much worse."

Under certain analyses, had key swing states — like Virginia — already done away with the winner-take-all system, only Florida would have stood in the way of Romney and the White House in November.

"Look, voter persuasion is hard," wrote Joy-Ann Reid in a Miami Herald opinion piece. "…Better to just dilute the opposition and give Republicans their man in the White House, will of the voters be damned."

Further, Reid states:

"Read more directly, Republicans can reduce the power of large urban centers — with their sizable black and brown populations — by literally giving those undesirable voters less than a full vote apiece. Talk about constitutional originalism! It seems the three-fifths compromise survives."

Locally Involved January 26, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Interesting how the GOP are so vocal about constitutional rights when it comes to the unfettered 2nd amendment yet have no problem taking away the most basic of constitutional right when it comes to voting. Instead, wanting to overrun the voice of the majority with an elected official. And, interesting that these efforts are ONLY taking place where the state went to a democratic part president in 2012.
Bill Strandberg January 29, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Interesting comment from Sen. Peterson calling the measure "anti-Democratic" with a capital "D". That is precisely the problem. The measure dilutes the "D"emocratic Party's ability to cluster votes in large population areas of a state where the usual liberal, Democratic constituency can overcome the greater good of an entire state. Besides Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York and Ohio all have large metropolitian clusters who vote Democratic, liberal and at odds with huge parts of the state. Of course, metropolitian areas have populations that make more money, pay higher taxes, demand more services and impose those on the rest of a state that may not need or want to pay for supporting areas with which they have very little in common. I do not believe the Constitution says anything about how a particular state decides on how the electoral votes are decided. If we want to adhere to the Constitution then we should also consider returning to the election of U.S. senators by state legislatures. Perhaps Sen Petersen should wear blue bowties instead of red in celebration of his "D"emocratic concerns.


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