The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans in Minnesota, Virginia propose changes to their electoral college rules

Voters cast their ballots and wait in line to vote at Monelison Middle School in Madison Heights, Va., on Nov. 8. (Jay Westcott/News & Daily Advance via AP)

Republicans in two swing states lost by President Trump in 2016 have introduced legislation that would have benefited Trump in the 2016 election, by splitting up their electoral votes by congressional districts instead of awarding them statewide.

In Minnesota, Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt has introduced a bill that would assign one electoral vote to each of the state's districts, and two to the winner of the statewide popular vote. In Virginia, Rep. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) has introduced identical legislation, and passed it through the Elections Subcommittee on a party-line vote.

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If active in 2016, the bills would have handed a total of 11 electoral votes from Hillary Clinton to Trump, in states won by Clinton. Trump won six of Virginia's 11 districts, and five of Minnesota's eight districts. In Minnesota, that would have meant a 5-5 electoral vote tie for Trump despite a statewide loss; nationwide, it would have bumped his electoral vote total to 317.

Before 2016, similarly pessimistic Republicans in Rust Belt swing states proposed mirror-image electoral vote bills. In 2011 and 2015, after midterm victories in states won by Barack Obama, legislators in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin argued that the will of the voter was being distorted by winner-take-all electoral voting.

At the time, thanks to gerrymandered maps — Wisconsin's is even being challenged in court — a vote-by-district system would have allowed Mitt Romney to net the majority of electors from the states without winning their popular vote. But had those systems been in place last year, Trump, who turned the states red for the first time since the 1980s, would have lost five electors in Michigan, six in Pennsylvania, and two in Wisconsin, dragging his overall electoral vote total down to 293.

Republicans have not introduced new electoral college reform bills in Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin this year so far. Minnesota and Virginia have Democratic governors, making those states' versions of the idea ripe for vetoes if they pass.