By Ashley Luck and Julie Rothey
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A House committee on Friday quietly killed a bill to divide Virginia’s electoral votes based on how presidential candidates do in each congressional district.
Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, moved to table his own bill because, he said, it could affect pending lawsuits over Virginia’s gerrymandered legislative districts.
Cole’s bill proposed a “congressional district system” for allocating Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in presidential elections. The system is used in Maine and Nebraska and would have given Donald Trump six of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes even though Hillary Clinton won the state’s popular vote.
The bill’s demise leaves in place a “winner take all” system of casting electoral votes – the method used in 47 other states.
Trump prevailed in six of Virginia’s congressional districts, mostly in the western part of the state, but a heavy Democratic turnout in more populous regions favored Clinton.
“The opponents of it think that it’s associated with redistricting where it’s really not; that wasn’t my intent. My intent was to distribute them a little bit more based on the actual voting,” Cole told the House Privileges and Elections Committee.
“Since there are pending lawsuits on redistricting, and the General Assembly generally doesn’t like to act on anything that may be impacted by a pending lawsuit,” Cole asked the committee to table the bill without further discussion.
Virginia House Democrats, led by Minority Leader David Toscano, said Thursday that Cole’s bill would have rigged the election system further, taking power from individual voters.
“Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, and now House Republicans want to base our system of electing a president off of boundaries they drew to benefit themselves,” Toscano said in a news release. “A system in which politicians have strategically chosen their voters and drawn out opponents is not democratic; it’s rigged.”
The Virginia League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union expressed similar concerns about the bill at a subcommittee meeting Tuesday. Carol Noggle, co-president of the league, said a bill of this kind should not be passed before redistricting has been decided.
Others disagreed, arguing that Northern Virginia’s population overshadows rural Virginians’ voices. Cole said he introduced the bill to increase voter turnout by making people feel more like their vote mattered.
Clara Wheeler, vice chairwoman of the State Board of Elections, voiced her support on the bill at the subcommittee meeting on Tuesday.
“When Virginia takes a position that is all or nothing, vast numbers of your communities – your constituents – have no say in the Electoral College,” said Wheeler.
Cole said that even if the bill had passed in the General Assembly, he thinks Gov. Terry McAuliffe would have vetoed it. Cole said he still thinks the congressional district system is a good policy, but the issue is done for the session. He said he may pursue it again in the future.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.