Two weeks ago, one of the most important Republican lawyers in Sacramento quietly filed a ballot initiative that would end the practice of granting all fifty-five of California’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. Instead, it would award two of them to the statewide winner and the rest, one by one, to the winner in each congressional district. Nineteen of the fifty-three districts are represented by Republicans, but Bush carried twenty-two districts in 2004. The bottom line is that the initiative, if passed, would spot the Republican ticket something in the neighborhood of twenty electoral votes—votes that it wouldn’t get under the rules prevailing in every other sizable state in the Union.California is an electoral vote rich big state that traditionally goes Democratic in a statewide election. But if the state's 55 votes were allocated based upon which candidate won in each congressional district, Hertzberg's thinking goes, then essentially the state of California would not be as monolithically Democratic as it would seem in presidential elections.
North Carolina is on the verge of making a similar move and if California goes the same way, I imagine a number of states will quickly fall in line. Given that most Americans are not happy with the Electoral College format anyway, the move might garner significant public support.
Hertzberg notes that a nationwide move to a proportional allocation alter the political calculus on election day:
Instead of ten battleground states and forty spectator states, we’d have thirty-five battleground districts and four hundred spectator districts. The red-blue map would be more mottled, and in some states more people might get to see campaign commercials, because media markets usually take in more than one district. But congressional districts are as gerrymandered as human ingenuity and computer power can make them. The electoral-vote result in ninety per cent of the country would still be a foregone conclusion, no matter how close the race.A couple of problems though, we haven't had ten battleground states in several elections. In 2004, the real battlegrounds were Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Wisconsin and West Virginia were sort of on the list and you might be able to make a case for New Mexico, Colorado and maybe one other. So at best we have six or seven truly competitive states.
But we routinely have more than 35Congressional districts in play due in an election year, so the electoral diversity gets a little better. CNN identified 52 key races in 2006 and the districts were spread out all over the country. Only four of these races were won with more than 55 percent of the vote and those in districts tainted by scandal for one party or the other. While many of these districts broke Democratic in 2006, it is not a forgone conclusion that they would do so for the Presidential election in 2008.
One thing is starting to override the move to change the way Presidential elections are run in the nation. Voters in vote rich states like California and New York have become fundraising stops for candidates and not places where candidates really campaign. Moves to make the state more competitive should be welcome. The move to competition in these states will change the way in which campaigns operate. Republican candidates won't simply write off New York and California. Democrats will no longer write off Texas and the southeast since there will be seats to be collected in those states, seats that could become important in the final electoral vote count.
Competition in politics is good and the bigger the playing field, the more Americans will benefit from the efforts of the candidates.