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Virginia Senate Moving Changes to Electoral College System. Is it Constituational? Ethical? Nahhhh….

VA Sen. Bill Carrico (R) pictured here pretending to care about Democracy.

The Virginia Senate has taken first steps toward changing the the current winner-take-all Electoral College system in place for Presidential elections in an attempt to replace it with a GOP-biased system for years to come.  

A Senate subcommittee voted 3-3 along party lines to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Carrico.  Unlike the current approach of splitting up a state’s electoral votes by Congressional district and then awarding the 2 at-large electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, Carrico’s plan awards the electoral votes first to Congressional districts and then awards the two at-large votes to the winner of the most districts.  Using the proposed new method, Mitt Romney would have won a majority of Virginia’s electoral votes despite losing the popular vote in the state.  The scenario is explained by Slate’s David Weigel:

Look at the map from 2012. Mitt Romney won the 1st (53%), 4th (50%), 5th (53%), 6th (59%), 7th (57%), 9th (63%), and 10th (50%) districts. Barack Obama won the four remaining districts — the 2nd (50%), 3rd (79%), 8th (68%), and 11th (62%). Had the Carrico plan been in place in 2012, Romney would have won nine of Virginia’s electoral votes, and Obama would have won four — even though Obama won the popular vote of the state by nearly 150,000 ballots and four percentage points.

It gets worse. You’ll notice that the 2nd, 4th, and 10th districts were squeakers, with margins between 4,000 and 5,000 votes. Carrico’s theory is that an electoral vote split would make rural areas more vital. But these districts cover the Tidewater region and the exurbs of Washington, D.C. One: Had Obama campaigned to win them, in particular, he wouldn’t have necessarily focused on anything that didn’t work statewide. Two: Had he won them, he would have taken eight electors to Mitt Romney’s five. Winning Virginia wouldn’t have been worth 13 votes. It’d have been like taking New Hampshire or Rhode Island. That’s because this reform is designed to disenfranchise Democrats, not make the state more important.

The bill also makes “technical adjustments” to districts that would create a new district of predominately African-American voters as well as force a face-off between Republican Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Augusta and Democrat R. Creigh Deeds of Bath. If passed, the changes would be implemented for the 2015 election.

There is no guarantee the bill will become law. In fact, a similar bill died during the 2011 session and with Gov. Bob McDonnell using his last months to cement a better resume ahead of the 2016 Presidential election it is unclear if he is willing to take this large of a political risk.  From to the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, said “the governor was very surprised to learn that a redistricting bill would be voted on by the Senate today.”

Martin added: “He has not seen this legislation. If the bill gets to his desk he will review it in great detail at that time as he did with prior redistricting legislation. The governor’s priorities this session are transportation, education and the budget. Not redistricting.”

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling also criticized the proposal saying, “it would set a bad precedent and stir up so much partisan rancor that legislators would be distracted from transportation and other priorities of the 45-day session.”

Sadly, most other Republicans in the legislature are on board including Lt. Gov. candidate and Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart.  He believes it will help correct problems that have spawned from the gerrymandering of his county:

“I can specifically speak to how awful the Democrats’ plan, which is currently in place, has impacted Prince William County. Like many other counties, cities, and towns in Virginia, we are currently carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. The county is split into five different Senate districts, four of which are centered in other jurisdictions. The 425,000 residents of Prince William County, who by their numbers are entitled to more than two full senate districts, are represented by only one senator who is a county resident. This new plan also corrects split precincts, which have caused significant confusion among voters.”

Democrats question the legality of the Republican plan to redistrict in a non-census year claiming the bill runs afoul of the state constitution. As it stands, redistricting is intended to taker place every 10 years, after the census, in years ending in 1.

The timing of the bill is opportunistic for Republicans.  The bill passed 20-19 on Monday in a 40-member state Senate that is split in half by party. Republicans took advantage of the absence of a Democratic senator to push the legislation through:

Since Republicans could not count on Bolling to split a tie vote in their favor in the evenly divided Senate, they had to wait for a day when a Democrat was absent to present the plan. They did so on Monday, when Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) was away to attend President Obama’s inauguration.

The New York Times noted the irony of Marsh III’s absence leading to the passage of a bill that Democrats claim will unfairly effect African-Americans.  Marsh III is a longtime civil rights lawyer and activist.  Democrats are calling out Republican claims that this would allow them to more closely follow the guidelines set forth by the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats are furious that the map also dilutes the party’s power by removing blacks from as many as a dozen districts; and under the guise of bowing to the Voting Rights Act, they say, it would pack blacks in fewer districts over all.

“This was nothing more than what I call plantation politics,” said Senator Donald McEachin, the chairman of the Democratic caucus.


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