Several years ago, there was a brief discussion about whether Republicans might change the law, so that key swing states, the electoral votes would go to the winner of congressional districts. This is the current system for Maine and Nebraska.
There was speculation in Virginia. Politically, it would have helped the Republicans if other states with Republican Governors and legislatures took this up. At the time, that included Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Republicans would have started with 215 electoral votes from the states Romney won. Democrats would have 213 electoral votes from the remaining states Obama won.
After the 2012 elections, the House delegations for those six states include 9 Republicans from Michigan, 8 Republicans from Virginia, 12 Republicans from Ohio, 17 Republicans from Florida, 13 Republicans from Pennsylvania, and 5 Republicans from Wisconsin.
If Republicans were to win the Romney states and every district in which a Republican congressman won in 2012, under this scenario, they’d have 279 electoral votes. This occurs even if Democrats win a majority of the vote in all six states, which would provide twelve electoral votes.
Under that system, Republicans could lose the presidential elections in nine districts which currently have Republican congressman, and still win the White House.
It would be even better for the party if the two at-large electoral votes go to whoever wins the majority of the state’s congressional districts. Under that scenario a Republican who wins the Romney states, and every district in which a Republican congressman won in 2012, that person would have 291 electoral votes. An appeal for party operatives is that this would have been more than any Republican had since 1988. It would be taking advantage of the ways distribution of congressional seats benefits the party. Liberals have claimed that gerrymandering is the main explanation for why Republicans win more legislative seats than they should be entitled to, but much of the imbalance is in how Democrats have a tendency to live in areas where their vote doesn’t matter, either a liberal enclave within a conservative district, or in an area that was already heavily Democratic (IE-Harlem.)
Writing for the American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie suggested it would be voter fraud when it technically wouldn’t qualify as such. It’s dishonest, but wouldn’t be illegal.
Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia at the time, promised to oppose the plan, and nothing came of it. Part of the reason is that it’s good for the state and its politicians if it is seen as electorally valuable. Perhaps, McDonnell had presidential ambitions, which seemed to be true of his four predecessors in the Governor’s office. In that case, he’d want Virginia and its 13 electoral votes to be in play. Granted, the subsequent federal corruption investigation put the kibosh on that, even if his conviction was overturned.
At the time, I thought this would be a bad idea, as 2016 looked like a strong Republican year, due to a combination of historical factors and the political environment (such as early problems with the Healthcare exchange.) I thought a major problem was the plan was it would result in less credibility for the party. I didn’t really think a Republican would manage to lose the popular vote by two points, and still win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Had Republicans gone through with the plan, and the backlash had absolutely no effect on voting, Donald Trump would have won about 283 electoral votes (it’s not precise, but I’m assuming he would win a congressional district won by a Republican member of Congress in 2016) instead of 306, assuming Democratic Governors in Pennsylvania and Virginia taken their states out of the arrangement. Had they been unable to pull that off, Trump would have won with 285 electoral votes, since he’d have some votes from Virginia to make up for losses in Pennsylvania. Perhaps Virginian Republicans were prescient, because that was the one key state with a Republican Governor and legislature that the party’s presidential nominee ended up losing, so it could have beefed up his electoral numbers.