Every major statewide office in Virginia is held by a Democrat. Both of the state’s senators are Democrats. Virginia voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 by comfortable margins. Its population is growing fastest in the northern part of the state, near Washington, D.C., and those new residents lean farther to the left than the state as a whole.
Taken as a whole, Virginia is a blue state.
However, taken as a collection of legislative districts, Virginia is still a red state. Republicans control both houses of the state’s legislature, and its congressional map — recently redrawn after the one passed following the 2010 census was deemed to have illegally diluted the voting power of the state’s black population — has eight Republican-leaning seats to three Democratic-leaning ones. Again, this is in a state that voted for President Obama twice.
Which is why Republicans in Virginia’s legislature thought it was a good idea to introduce a bill this week that would, like similar attempts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and, well, Virginia before it, change the way the state allocates electoral votes in presidential elections. Rather than allocate Electoral Votes on a winner-take-all basis, the winner of the state’s popular vote would receive two electoral votes (one for each senator) and with remaining electoral votes allocated based on the winner of each of the state’s eleven congressional districts. Only Nebraska and Maine currently use this method for allocating electoral votes, and Nebraska is thinking about switching to a winner-take-all model.
The bill introduced this week is actually less extreme than the version Virginia Republicans considered in 2013. That bill would have awarded the state’s two at-large electoral votes to the candidate that won the majority of congressional districts instead of the candidate that won the popular vote. That would have taken President Obama’s 13-0 split of the state’s electoral votes in 2012 and turned it into a 9-4 advantage for Mitt Romney. The current bill, if implemented, would only have given Romney a 7-5 victory in the state.
Of course, the bill isn’t going to pass. Democrats have enough votes in the legislature to kill it somewhere in the legislative process, and even if they don’t they have enough votes to sustain Governor Terry McAuliffe’s inevitable veto. Still, though, it goes to show just how mainstream the concept of altering the electoral process for partisan gain is in the conservative movement.
The Republicans who push these bills — and they exclusively pushed by Republicans — have dropped the pretense that changing electoral vote allocation have anything to do with Rawlsian conceptions of justice under the veil of ignorance. Instead, they’re perfectly happy to state up front that they are only interested in altering the electoral process to improve their chances of winning the White House without having to earn any more actual votes.
In this case, they’re swinging at a big, democratic windmill. But it’s worth keeping in mind that these kinds of bills remain on state-level Republican agendas even when they have no hope of passing. It gives you a good idea of what sorts of bills will be at the top of their priority list should they win back control of Virginia at the state level.