By Karen Shanton
Starting in December, there seemed to be a burgeoning push for changes to the way states allocate their presidential electoral votes. Forty-eight states (and the District of Columbia) use a winner-take-all system, awarding all of their votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote. The remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, portion out some votes by congressional district. In the past two months, Republican policymakers in seven winner-take-all states–-Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin--have considered proposals for switching to a district system.
Following high-profile, vocal pushback--from both inside and outside the GOP--this idea ran into roadblocks. Top Republicans in Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin distanced themselves from the proposal and Virginia's version of the bill died in committee. Despite pending legislation in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington, the momentum behind this movement seems to have stalled.
What's not yet clear is whether this holdup is temporary or permanent.
Though it might be the first time they've received quite so much attention, this is far from the first time electoral vote allocation changes have been proposed. Maine and Nebraska considered, and adopted, the switch from winner-take-all to a district system in 1972 and 1992, respectively.
Changes in electoral vote allocation have also received an airing more recently. Following the controversial 2000 presidential election, a majority of states – 29 in all – considered changing the way they award electoral votes. Nebraska proposed reverting to winner-take-all and a handful of states considered systems that portion out votes by share of the statewide popular vote. The other bills, like the current proposals, advocated a switch to a district system.
(A different kind of Electoral College change – the National Popular Vote (NPV) – started gaining traction in 2006-2007 and has since generated legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The present discussion doesn't address those proposals. For more on the NPV, see an upcoming post.)
After the post-2000 wave in legislation, enthusiasm for these proposals waned. But it didn't drop off completely. Between 2003 and 2012, a typical biennium saw this type of legislation in 10 to 15 states. This bumped up to 18 states in the biennium immediately following the 2004 presidential election. In total, 35 states have considered these kinds of proposals since 2000.
*This chart does not include data on NPV-related legislation.
†In 2008, Minnesota proposed awarding two of its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
‡Some states introduced multiple types of legislation in a single biennium so the number of proposals in some years adds up to more than the total number of states with proposals.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, 2013
So, despite the attention it's generated, the current level of legislative activity on this issue is actually on the low side. With bills in just four states, the amount of legislation that has been proposed so far this biennium is below the standard set in recent years.
It will be interesting to see if these numbers hold. Many states, including Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and South Carolina, have repeatedly introduced and re-introduced this kind of legislation over the past decade. Will they file those bills again this cycle, bumping the numbers back up to the 10 to 15 range? Or has the high-profile pushback on the current proposals effectively put an end to those efforts?