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Va. considers electoral vote changes

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By Tom Cohen, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — If at first you don’t succeed, try to change the rules.

A proposal under consideration in Virginia’s Republican-led state Legislature would change how the commonwealth allocates its 13 electoral votes in the wake of Democratic President Barack Obama’s re-election last November.

Obama won the popular vote in the crucial battleground state to claim all 13 electoral votes, even though GOP challenger Mitt Romney beat him in seven of the 11 congressional districts.

Under the proposed alternative system, electoral votes would get divvied up by congressional districts won. In addition, Virginia’s two other electoral votes — one for each U.S. Senate seat — would go to the candidate who won the most congressional districts.

If the district-based system had been in effect in Virginia last year, Romney would have gotten nine electoral votes to four for Obama.

While a subcommittee has advanced the Virginia proposal, skepticism expressed by some GOP state senators raised doubts that it would proceed any further.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, does not support the plan, according to his spokesman.

“He believes Virginia’s existing system works just fine as it is. He does not believe there is any need for a change,” Tucker Martin said in statement.

However, Reince Priebus, newly re-elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the idea worth examining.

“I think it is a state issue, but personally I’m pretty intrigued by it,” he told reportersFriday.

The state party chairman in Florida, Lenny Curry, questioned the wisdom of such a move at a time when the party is trying to broaden its support.

“It seems to me we ought to be focused on connecting with voters and bringing them into our party versus trying to change the game,” Curry said.

To Sean Trende, the senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics, the concept doesn’t violate democratic principles, but he called it a bad idea.

“Close elections would likely always result in extensive recounts, we could see huge disparities between the popular and electoral vote, and the partisan motive behind it would be transparent,” he wrote Friday on the group’s website.

Currently, only Nebraska and Maine use a district-based plan for allocating electoral votes.

Their systems differ from the Virginia proposal by awarding the two additional electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, rather than who won the most districts. Last year, both split their electoral votes between Obama and Romney.

Other GOP-controlled state legislatures reportedly contemplating changes to their electoral vote allocation include Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

Under the Electoral College system, each state is worth a certain number of electoral votes based on population. Winning the presidency requires a majority of the electoral vote, regardless of who wins the popular vote.

States have the power to decide how their electoral votes get allocated, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted on its website.

It cited a similar push for change after the 2000 election, when Democratic Vice President Al Gore won the national popular vote but lost the electoral vote, and therefore the decision, to Republican George W. Bush.

From 2001 to 2006, bills proposing adoption of the district system were introduced in many states, but failed to pass, according to the NCSL website. Both Maine and Nebraska adopted their district-based systems before 2000.

The issue reflects the regionalization of America’s deep partisan divide, with splits in many states between populous urban areas that tend to be more liberal and larger, less populated rural areas that generally are more conservative.

In Virginia, Obama got strong support in two heavily populated northern districts close to Washington as well as a district that includes much of Richmond and Norfolk. Romney won more rural districts in the central, southern and western parts of the state.

Overall in Virginia, Obama got 51% of the total vote — more than 1.97 million — compared to Romney’s 1.82 million for 47% of the total.

CNN’s Mark Preston and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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