The idea has some superficial appeal: If every state allocated electoral votes this way, it would encourage candidates to campaign outside a few privileged enclaves without upending the electoral college system, and candidates would draw at least some electoral votes from states they lost narrowly. But there are two major problems.
First is the partisan context. Democrats have won Wisconsin — often by narrow margins — in every election save one since 1988. The Republicans who control the state legislature would enable GOP candidates to win electoral votes out of Wisconsin, while lawmakers in states that vote more reliably Republican would maintain their winner-take-all systems, biasing the electoral map against Democrats.
Worse, allocating electoral votes by congressional district would import gerrymandering into the presidential election process. Because of Wisconsin’s warped congressional map, if the system had been in place in 2020, Mr. Trump would have taken six electoral votes from Wisconsin and Mr. Biden only four, despite the president-elect’s 20,000-vote margin. And Mr. Biden would have fared even that well only because the statewide winner would have gotten two automatic electoral votes; Mr. Trump carried six of the state’s eight congressional districts. If Mr. Biden had narrowly lost, he likely would have won only two electoral votes to Mr. Trump’s eight. In other words, the state’s electoral votes would have been allocated in a manner that was far from proportional.
Moreover, moving to such a system would increase the incentive state lawmakers have to gerrymander congressional district maps for political gain. The Supreme Court refused in 2019 to strike down extreme gerrymanders in Maryland and North Carolina, enabling partisan lawmakers to continue drawing bizarre district boundaries. With a freer hand and the ability to warp both congressional and presidential elections, they would have all the more reason to extract every last drop of partisan advantage.
If state lawmakers are truly concerned about allocating electoral votes proportionally, they could do so according to the statewide popular vote, rather than by congressional district results. If each candidate wins half the total vote, give each half the electoral votes. If it split 60 percent to 40 percent, distribute the electoral votes accordingly. It is telling that this is not what Wisconsin Republicans are considering.
The present system has problems. Mr. Biden easily won the popular vote this year, but the movement of a relatively small number of votes in a handful of swing states would have resulted in Mr. Trump’s reelection. Candidates lavish attention on a few swing states and neglect most Americans. If every state allocated electoral votes in proportion to the popular-vote totals within its borders — a difficult policy shift to coordinate — these problems would likely be less severe. Then again, it is not clear why the nation needs the electoral college at all.