Virginia Republicans’ proposal to award electoral votes by congressional districts, the subject of our Washington Examiner local editorial today, strikes me as a really bad idea, for all the reasons set forth by Sean Trende in Real Clear Politics. Let me put forward one more reason.
Our local editorial makes the valid point that Virginia Democrats who are criticizing the proposal advanced a similar proposal when it looked like Virginia was a safe Republican state in presidential politics, as it did from 1968 to 2004. But at least the Virginia Democrats were accurately assessing their partisan interest: better to have some electoral votes every election than none at all.
But Virginia is not now a safe Democratic state in presidential politics. It is a marginal state, a target state, indeed in the 2008 and 2012 elections it was the closest thing to a bellwether state. In 2008 the United States voted 53%-46% for Barack Obama over John McCain. So did Virginia. In 2012 the United States voted 51%-47% for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. So did Virginia. In both elections no other state can so close to matching the national percentages of the popular vote.
No state is a bellwether forever. Michigan was in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 presidential elections; starting in 1996 it has been 3% or 4% more Democratic than the nation. But if Virginia continues to be a bellwether, then it’s likely that if the 2016 Republican presidential nominee wins a plurality of the national popular vote, that nominee will also carry Virginia. In which case under the Republicans’ proposal that nominee will likely win only 9, 10 or 11 of Virginia’s electoral votes, while the other 4, 3 or 2 will go to the Democratic nominee.
From a purely partisan point of view, it’s a dumb idea for either party to award electoral votes by congressional district in a bellwether state.