As expected, legislation to change how Virginia distributes its 13 electoral votes in presidential elections was defeated in a Senate committee Tuesday, despite its sponsor’s effort to make it more palatable.
The initial proposal from Sen. Charles W. “Bill” Carrico would have moved the commonwealth away from its current winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes based on the overall popular vote.
His SB 723 called for Virginia to instead proportionately designate electoral votes by vote total in the state’s 11 congressional districts, with the last two electoral votes going to the candidate who carried the most districts.
Had that system been in place last year, President Barack Obama would have received four electoral votes, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have earned nine, even though Obama won the state by almost 150,000 votes.
Speaking about the bill, Carrico said he filed it on behalf of his rural Southwest Virginia constituents who feel slighted in presidential elections because their votes are outnumbered by big city dwellers and they get overlooked by candidates.
He insisted it is not an attempt “to gerrymander an election,” as some critics insinuated.
Aware his bill was in jeopardy, Carrico offered a revision to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee that would have proportionately divided electoral votes based on candidates’ popular vote share.
The amended version was still defeated on a bi-partisan vote of 11-4, with Sen. Jeff McWaters of Virginia Beach among the Republicans who voted to table the bill.
Before the vote, Democrats such as Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke said more review and public hearings would be appropriate before pursuing such a “radical change.”
Edwards also argued the state now benefits from candidate attention in presidential years because it is a battleground state.
“If we want Virginia to be competitive in terms of candidates coming here, the winner-take-all system is by far the best,” he added.
Also opposing the bill was Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Bedford County.
While Smith sees a proportional electoral vote system as more equitable, he’s reluctant to make that kind of change in Virginia when most other states remain winner-take-all.
Until there’s widespread change, he said, that kind of distribution system would end up “skewing the playing field.”
At present, only Maine and Nebraska proportionately award their electoral votes.