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Electoral College Change Could Weaken Influence of Urban Areas

Petersen: Republican effort to end winner-take-all system in Virginia 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, Va., Republican, would divvy up electoral collage 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 that 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."

Editor's Note:  Fredericksburg is represented in Virginia's General Assembly by:

Related Story:

Democrats: 'We Have a Lot of Fight Still in Us' (Jan. 23, 2013)

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rick barasso January 26, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Republicans once again, show what kind of snakes they truly are... There attempts to manipulate the electorate backfired in the last election and will continue to do so. I guess their idea is if championing racism, guns, God and the wealthy is not enough to get them elected, they can just continue to try and cheat...
Gail Cobile January 26, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Careful Republicans, you're showing commonsense!
Larry Gross January 26, 2013 at 02:45 PM
what I would support: No Gerrymandered districts. Popular vote is winner takes all unless there is less than 1% (or pick a number) difference then it goes proportional with 2 votes going to popular vote state level winner added to their non-gerrymandered Congressional District wins. The districts would be done by computer according to simple population and other related criteria - with no modifications at all allowed by legislators.
Elizabeth Talbot January 26, 2013 at 09:38 PM
The time has come for mandatory drug testing of all state legislators!
1Ronald January 26, 2013 at 10:07 PM
How about that 3rd Party we've been hoping for? One that pulls back on the international front by minding its own business. That means NO foreign invasions, NO foreign wars, and NO foreign aid. Aid first must start here at home and involve heavy investing in the US infra-structure before it's too late. That includes entitlements for the Middle Class who pay the brunt of the biggest share in the form of taxes. As a former Program Manager of an entitlement program that aided veterans, (later not re-authorized by Congress because it was Vietnam related), I am sick and tired of politicians who want our vote only to turn against us once they're elected. Listen to them before you vote! No entitlements mean YOU get the shaft. Social Security, Medicare are easily sustained IF the US can stay out of other countries' business and let them settle their own differences among themselves. There's plenty to be done here. Let's get on it. And start a viable, sustainable THIRD Party who will represent ALL of us. That is, one which will not hammer away at why we need to embrace weidos nor a party who represents the top 2% of the nation's wealth AND extremists religious cults that never give up trying desperately to fool all of the people all of the time. (Pro Life, you name's a lie, you don't care if women die!) Most people who vote for a party of the rich or the cultists cannot personally afford to do so and end up "shooting themselves in the foot."
Larry Gross January 26, 2013 at 10:23 PM
I'd vote to neuter the two current parties but do not believe a 3rd party would be a shoo-in by any means. Just give the 2 entrenched parties some real competition. if we wait a bit and are lucky - the GOP will split into 2 parties like Conservatives have done in Europe! when you think about it - right-wing primary challenges to entrenched GOP is Democracy in action! Messy as heck... and may well lead to gridlock in Congress though.
Piccadilly Circus January 27, 2013 at 01:50 PM
What a crock
Scott V February 03, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Having a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters, I care if women die. In fact I care about the women in my life so much that I believe they deserve better than abortion and so does the female child they are killing. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom? Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child's embrace, that is true." -President Barack Obama Next time be mindful before you blindly accuse someone you dont know with a statement as agregious as "You don't care if women die!" Shame.
rick barasso February 04, 2013 at 01:49 AM
Hey scott. Read the headline. Get with the program dude
rick barasso March 11, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Scott, Sorry ma'am
rick barasso March 12, 2013 at 04:53 PM
In that case, Reverend Rick will do..

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