In the busy mind of Virginia state Sen. Charles Carrico, voters can be divided into two species. The first: “people in my district,” which covers a swath of the state’s rural southwest. These voters are real people. The second species: voters in “metropolitan districts.” In 2012 and 2008, rural voters watched Democrats turn out that metro vote, which elected Barack Obama. That experience apparently taught Carrico and the people he represents that “their votes don’t mean anything.” Carrico’s solution: Make the rural vote matter more and make the metro vote count less. His bill, SB273, would assign 11 of Virginia’s electoral votes to its 11 congressional districts. The state’s two remaining votes would go to whoever received the “highest number of votes in a majority of congressional districts.”
Four of those 11 districts contain huge clusters of Democrats, and voted for Obama. The next seven districts, largely rural, voted for Mitt Romney. Had the Carrico proposal gone into effect this year, Romney would have lost Virginia’s popular vote by 4 points and carried nine of its 13 electors. The metro denizen’s vote would have still meant something, sure. It would have meant less than the vote of the angry coal miner in Appalachia.
When I heard about the Carrico proposal and called around, Democrats shrugged. Virginia Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, but they control the Senate only narrowly. Virginia voted Republican for 44 years until Barack Obama came along. Why would the party confidently tear up the map, if some 2016 savior could actually carry the whole state?
It’s a good question, but it wasn’t supposed to be asked this quickly. Republicans took control of Pennsylvania’s legislature in 2010, but not until September 2011 did they propose an electoral vote split. That failed, done in by public pressure and—probably more importantly—by Republican members of Congress worrying that it would goose the turnout against them.
Republicans escaped the 2012 election with continued control of most state houses and governor’s mansions. But this time the electoral vote rethink is happening more quickly. In Pennsylvania , there is a proposal to split electors by popular vote. In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted has mused that dividing the electoral vote by congressional district would make the election less messy. In every state, the rationale is the same—it’s just not fair for urbanites to swarm the polls and outvote everybody else. One week after the loss, Rep. Paul Ryan admitted his “surprise” at “some of the turnout, especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.”