Next week’s Virginia gubernatorial election has many important consequences, including whether a disgraced man running a race-baiting campaign will assume leadership of an increasingly blue state, but one that many voters and watchers overlook: The results may well determine whether Virginia changes its method of electoral vote allocation.
Republicans stung by Virginia’s swing to a blue state — it voted for a Democratic president in each of the last three elections after not having done so a single time since 1964 — want to take electoral votes away from future Democratic victors by ending the winner-take-all system. Instead, they want to allocate electoral votes by congressional district, which only Nebraska and Maine do today.
The winner of each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts receives an Electoral Vote with the remaining two votes going to the statewide winner. This policy is nothing more than an effort to benefit future Republican candidates by taking a handful of votes away from likely Democratic victors and giving them to the statewide loser. In close elections, always a likelihood given the mix of swing states, this could be decisive, especially if Republicans in Democratic Minnesota succeed in passing similar legislation.
Had this legislation been in effect during the 2016 election, Donald Trump would have won six electoral college votes to Hillary Clinton’s seven despite Clinton winning the state easily. Barack Obama also would have seen some five or six votes lost to Mitt Romney (Democrats would have benefited in the years prior). That Republicans push this policy now rather than a decade ago when Virginia seemed reliably red shows they foresee losing the state in future presidential elections and want to bolster their candidate. It’s not about accurately reflecting the statewide vote, as Republicans have claimed, because they obviously showed no concern for Democrats earning electoral votes even as George Bush won the state.
Switching to proportional allocation of electoral votes makes sense, but only if all states embrace such a reform (otherwise, it hurts the statewide winner and could potentially deny her enough votes in the election). However, any such change to proportional allocation should not be done by congressional districts. As we all know, gerrymandering plagues congressional districts (as does geographic clustering), so attempts to proportionally allocate electoral votes based on congressional district results falls well short of fairness. Trump won 44 percent of the Virginia vote but 54 percent of its congressional districts. Proportional allocation must be done at the statewide, not congressional district, level (and with a threshold requirement).
Virginia has yet to enact such a blatant Republican power-grab because it has a Democratic governor. The measure passed the Election Subcommittee along party lines, which portends well for Republicans: They have a nearly 2/3 majority in the House of Delegates and a one-seat majority in the state senate. But they don’t control the governorship and the governor can veto the measure.
If Ed Gillespie wins the election, Republicans will control the state legislature (the senate is not up for election this cycle) and can pass its desired measure by whipping the party into line.
This election has lasting influence on the nature of the GOP, the Republican majority in the House of Delegates, and controlling 2020 redistricting. It also may well determine whether Virginia helps statewide Republicans losers — that is, Donald Trump — in the next presidential election.