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Senate committee votes down bill to change electoral college

On a bipartisan 11-4 vote, the Senate Privileges and Elections committee this afternoon has rejected a bill that would have changed the way Virginia apportions its presidential electoral votes.

The bill, from Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, would have chucked the state’s winner-take-all system for electoral votes, and substituted instead a system of apportioning the votes by congressional district. Had it been law in 2012, Republican Mitt Romney would have won more electoral votes in Virginia than President Barack Obama, although Obama won the statewide popular vote.

Carrico’s bill had attracted a storm of criticism, as opponents said it was a move — one going on in several other states as well — by Republicans to change the rules of the game because they lost the past two presidential races.

Carrico said that wasn’t the case, but he did suggest altering his bill in Tuesday’s Privileges and Elections committee meeting, to make it so that the electoral votes would be divided more proportionately to the popular vote.

Members of the committee said his altered bill was a better idea.

“I was not in favor of the bill as he originally brought it,” said Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester.

She said she could support the amended bill, but felt that lawmakers should spend a lot more time considering it.

Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, agreed.

“We should have a lot of public hearings because this would be a radical change,” Edwards said. “If we want to be competitive … the winner-take-all system is by far the best. … This thing ought to be sent to a study.”

Virginia used to be almost totally ignored by presidential campaigns, the result of 40 years of reliably voting Republican. But the state has gone Democratic in the past two elections, becoming a toss-up and reaping the candidate visits to prove it.

However, not all areas of Virginia are created equal. Carrico said he proposed the bill because his congressional district, Virginia’s 9th — largely rural and distant from the state’s population centers along I-95 and in Hampton Roads — got scant attention in the presidential race last year. While Virginia saw an unprecedented amount of attention from the presidential candidates, most of their appearances were in Northern Virginia, the Richmond area or Hampton Roads. They rarely went west of Roanoke.

The 9th went overwhelmingly for Republican Mitt Romney, but President Barack Obama won Virginia’s popular vote overall, and all its 13 electoral votes.

“I did this because so many people in my district feel the current system, winner-take-all, is not fair,” Carrico told reporters.

Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Salem, said he likes Carrico’s bill and the idea of allocating electoral votes proportionally to the popular vote. But, he said, Virginia shouldn’t go that route alone.

“To be fair, it must be done nationwide,” Smith said.

The committee voted 11-4 to reject Carrico’s bill. Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, was one of the four to vote for it; he said afterwards that he “would have liked to work on this” and that the amended bill had promise.

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