RICHMOND, Va. — The prospects appear doomed in Virginia this year for Republican-backed legislation that would replace the state's winner-take-all method of apportioning presidential electoral votes with one that awards one vote to the winner of each congressional district.
Virginia is the first of several states carried in November by President Barack Obama where the Republican-controlled legislature is considering measures to replace the winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes. The Virginia legislation survived a state Senate subcommittee on a 3-3 vote this week, but two Republicans on the full committee said Friday they would oppose the bill when it comes up for a committee vote next week, effectively killing it.
And should it clear the legislature, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Friday he opposes it. Spokesman J. Tucker Martin said McDonnell, a Republican, "believes Virginia's system works just fine."
Similar legislation is pending in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was re-elected to a second two-year term Friday, endorsed the concept last week. Other GOP leaders have expressed support for the idea as a way to rebound after last fall's defeats.
Nebraska and Maine now award one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and the other two to the statewide winner. If other states were to follow this model, it could dramatically change the way Americans elect their president. In the current political climate, it also could put Democrats at a disadvantage in states Obama won but where Republican legislatures drew congressional district lines to maximize GOP performance.
In the November election, Obama won the popular vote with 65.9 million votes, or 51.1 percent, to Republican Mitt Romney's 60.9 million, or 47.2 percent. Obama won the Electoral College by 332-206.
In Virginia, Obama received nearly 2 million votes, or 51.1 percent, to Romney's 1.8 million, or 47.3 percent. Obama won all 13 Virginia electoral votes, becoming the first Democrat to win back-to-back presidential elections in Virginia since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Obama benefited from a huge turnout in urban and suburban areas around Washington, D.C., and Hampton Roads while Romney dominated more conservative rural ones.
Had state Sen. Charles Carrico's bill to allocate electors by congressional districts been in place, Romney would have won nine electoral votes to Obama's four.
Democrats, a minority in both the House and Senate in Virginia, decried the bill as a Republican power play to rig elections and steal with a legislative majority what they could not win with the ballot. They contend the measure is just one piece of an overall legislative package intended to burden disadvantaged voters who support Democrats.
Under Carrico's bill, the winner of the presidential vote in each congressional district would be awarded one electoral vote, and the candidate who won a majority of the districts would get the other two electoral votes.
Republican Sens. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County, who abstained from voting in the subcommittee, and Ralph Smith of Roanoke County said Friday they would vote against the bill when it appears before the full committee.
Vogel, a former Republican National Committee election lawyer, said she saw no problem with the bill's legality, but objected to the image it creates for her party so soon after Obama's victory last fall.
"It's the timing of it," she said. "It's just an awful impression it makes."
She said she abstained in the subcommittee vote as a courtesy to Carrico.
Smith said the measure violates his sense of order and fair play.
"I think every state needs to have the same plan. Two states do it already, but that doesn't make it right," Smith said. "More important than the interests of either party is a level playing field."