RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Republican-backed bill that would end Virginia's winner-takes-all method of apportioning its 13 electoral votes in presidential elections cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.
A Senate Privileges and Elections subcommittee advanced Sen. Bill Carrico's bill Wednesday to consideration by the GOP-dominated full committee next week. Because the vote was 3-3 with one abstention, it reaches the full committee without a recommendation to either report it for a Senate vote or to reject it.
Republicans control the Senate and House in Virginia, and Gov. Bob McDonnell is a Republican.
The bill would apportion electors by congressional district to the candidate who wins each of the state's 11 districts. The candidate who carries a majority of the districts would also win the two electors not tied to congressional districts.
Sen. Charles W. "Bill" Carrico, R-Grayson, said the change is necessary because Virginia's populous, urbanized areas such as the Washington, D.C., suburbs and Hampton Roads can outvote rural regions such as his, rendering their will irrelevant.
Last fall, President Barack Obama carried Virginia for the second election in a row, making him the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win Virginia in back-to-back presidential elections. For his victories, he received all 13 of the state's electoral votes.
Under Carrico's revision, Obama would have received only four Virginia electoral votes last year while Republican Mitt Romney would have received nine. Romney carried conservative rural areas while Obama dominated Virginia's cities and fast-growing suburbs.
Virginia would be only the third state after Maine and Nebraska to apportion electors according to congressional districts, and by far the largest. Maine has only two U.S. House districts, and Nebraska has three.
Unlike the other two states, however, Virginia is covered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, passed during the civil rights era. The act seeks to ensure that states with a history of racial discrimination - mostly in the South - do not dilute the voting power of minorities. That means Carrico's bill would face scrutiny by the Obama's Justice Department should it become law.
Democrats have bitterly objected, saying it's part of a broad GOP scheme to restrict voting access and manipulate political districts to thwart Democratic gains and keep Republicans in power.
Republicans were happy with the statewide winner-take-all method until 2008 when Obama ended 44 years of GOP victories in Virginia in presidential elections, Democrats also said.