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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 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."

Related stories:

How Does the Virginia General Assembly Match Up to Fairfax City Demographics?

Bill January 27, 2013 at 02:22 PM
It's about time, this is a very good move. I live in NOVA and the unfair influence this part of the state wields over the Commonwealth is simple unfair. They are two different worlds and NOVA voters are very self focused and do not have the good of the entire state as their goal. Only what's good for NOVA. This is a welcome move that gives a fair voice to the state as a whole.
Reality January 27, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Really Bill? Between Norfolk/Hampton/Va Beach; Richmond/Chesterfield/Henrico; and Northern VA these three provide for the ENTIRE state - and get so little back in return. Look at the percentage of residents on the Government dole in each county in Virginia and re-think what you just said. You'd be surprised who's supporting whom.
Reality January 27, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Virginia Census Data 2011: Total VA Population 8,096,604; Total in the 18 (of 135 in VA) Counties/Cities above 4,556,196 (56%) of the state. And you want to minimize the will of 56% of the state by gerrymandered districts? My vote still counts.. and it should.

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