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Shea bill targets electoral voting

Change would give presidential votes to each district

OLYMPIA – Changing the way the state casts its Electoral College votes for president would be fairer to Eastern Washington voters, a Spokane Valley legislator said Tuesday.

A Democratic leader, however, said the bill is a way Republicans could win the White House through gerrymandered districts without a majority of the popular vote.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill he’s sponsoring would award most of the state’s Electoral College votes based on the outcome of the presidential race in each of Washington’s 10 congressional districts. Two of the Electoral College votes, which are given to each state for its two U.S. senators, would go to the state’s overall winner under House Bill 1091.

House Bill 1091 is patterned after a system used in Nebraska and Maine. Under it, the Electoral College votes for Eastern Washington’s 5th District and Central Washington’s 4th District would have gone for the Republican presidential nominees in the last seven elections. In some of those elections, including last year’s, southwest Washington’s 3rd District Electoral College votes also would have gone to a Republican. Because current law says all votes go to the statewide winner, they’ve gone to the Democratic candidate since 1988.

“A lot of voters in Eastern Washington feel disenfranchised. They feel their votes don’t count,” Shea said.

Washington has a law on the books to cast its electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of the state’s totals, if enough other states agree to do the same. That’s a bad plan, Shea said, because states have different voting laws and presidential ballots. It’s unworkable, and probably unconstitutional, he added, and HB 1091 would cancel that law.

Committee Chairman Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, asked Shea who would have been president right now if all the states had such a system in 2012.

“I don’t know,” Shea replied. “I’d have to do the math.”

“It would not be Barack Obama,” Hunt said.

Obama received 332 Electoral College votes to Mitt Romney’s 206 under the current system. Based on a district analysis of the national vote by the Huffington Post, Romney would have gained enough electoral votes to win, 273 to 262, even though Obama won the popular vote nationwide.

Trent England of the Freedom Foundation said the change would force the presidential campaigns and political parties to change their campaign strategies. Instead of focusing on swing states, they’d focus on the most moderate, politically divided congressional districts. That could change the outcome of the national popular vote, he said.

Republican legislators in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia have proposed similar plans, although none has so far passed.

“This comes from the Republican National Committee,” Hunt said after the hearing. “They see a way to take some of their solidly Republican congressional districts and turn them into Electoral College votes.”

Hunt said he didn’t think HB 1091 would get out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.

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