A proposal by Spokane Valley Republican Rep. Matt Shea that Washington change the way 10 of its 12 electoral votes are split will likely go nowhere, and deservedly so.
Republicans revived the idea of allotting electoral votes by results in individual congressional districts instead of the traditional statewide winner-take-all because Mitt Romney would have won the 2012 presidential race 273 to 262 over President Barack Obama. Revived, because Democrats trotted out the same idea after George W. Bush won a majority of electoral votes despite trailing Al Gore in the popular vote.
How would this scheme work?
Critical and voter-rich states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania went to the president, who collected all their electoral votes. But if the votes were allocated according to results in congressional districts, Romney would have collected nine of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes and, in Pennsylvania, eight of 20.
And so on in Wisconsin, Florida and other states where Obama’s popular vote margin was small – 50.5 percent in Florida – but his electoral victory 100 percent.
In newly redistricted Washington, Romney would have taken three electoral votes, including that for Eastern Washington, which re-elected Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Shea says the current system cheats voters east of the Cascade Mountains of a voice in presidential voting. In that, he is not wrong. Until the rising seas inundate Seattle, West Side voters will control the outcomes of statewide elections and, therefore, the awarding of all Washington electoral votes.
But a proportional split of the state’s electoral votes makes sense only because congressional districts are drawn by a bipartisan commission that produces a more or less party-blind map. In most other states, legislatures do the work. And most are Republican-controlled right now, and their tortured maps assure party supremacy in as many districts as possible.
(Note: Democrats are equally loony cartographers. In a spare moment, check out Maryland’s Third District.)
Many Republican map-makers think they can chart a new path to the White House, but they are already losing traction.
The plan died in a Virginia legislative committee Wednesday, and party officials in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin want nothing to do with it. Playing games with the system can backfire, as they did last fall when Republican efforts to dampen minority voting instead brought a surge of those constituencies to the polls.
More fundamentally, schemes that would elect presidents with a minority of popular support breed cynicism.
Republican presidential candidates have won a majority only once in the last six elections – in 2004 – and the party’s motivation for shuffling the electoral deck is obvious. But wiser heads recognize that getting back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. entails the hard work of broadening the party’s appeal. Support for immigration reform is a start.
The Electoral College system may need changing, but not as a sour grapes response to a bitter, unexpected defeat in November.