A bill that could potentially alter the influence of Wisconsin voters in presidential elections began being circulated for support in the Legislature Wednesday.
The proposal, introduced by Rep. Dan LeMahieu, R-Cascade, would segment the state’s electoral college votes and give the congressional districts in the state a separate vote in the presidential election.
Under Wisconsin’s current system, whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote in the state wins the state’s 10 electoral votes, regardless of how close the election is, University of Wisconsin political science professor Donald Downs said. Most states’ Electoral College systems operate in this manner.
If LeMahieu’s proposal gains approval, this system of votes would likely create a divide in Wisconsin’s electoral vote, Downs said, as some electorates tend to vote down partisan lines.
Under the bill, the eight congressional districts in the state would act as individual popular vote elections. If a candidate wins a congressional district he or she would receive one electoral vote.
Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said those in support of splitting the electoral votes into the individual districts contend this would give more legitimacy to citizens who vote against the party which typically wins the state. However, she says this measure would have the opposite effect, as candidates could instead focus their attention on states where they can win all of the electoral votes.
She said Wisconsin has primarily voted in favor of Democratic candidates over the past 30 years. Roys said Republicans in the state who support this bill are doing so in an attempt to curb the number of electoral votes President Barack Obama stands to get in the 2012 election.
A small number of states, including Nebraska, have previously chosen to split their electoral college votes in the presidential elections, Downs said. Besides Wisconsin, several states, such as Pennsylvania, are also currently considering splitting up their electoral votes.
Downs said the change in the electoral college count would mean Wisconsin would receive less attention from candidates in future presidential races. With the removal of a ‘winner-take-all’ electoral college system, candidates would not have the incentive to campaign in the state, he said.
In recent presidential elections, Downs said, candidates have viewed Wisconsin as a swing state which could go for either Republicans or Democrats. However, the proposed split of the state’s electoral votes would likely end this status.
“In the last few [presidential] elections, Wisconsin been one of the key states,” Downs said. “[With the split of electorate votes,] the state would become less important.”
Downs said the argument could be made that splitting state electoral votes is a fairer way of representing the state in a presidential election, since close splits under a standard electoral college system award nothing to the party that loses by even a small margin.
While Roys said the bill would likely receive more Republican support than Democratic, she said she believes some Republicans will see how the legislation would take power away from the state.
“My hope is there are still some Republicans who are confident enough in their ideology to believe they can win an election fair and square,” Roys said.