Instead of laboring in vain to turn California Red, a clever lawyer for the state Republican Party thought of a gimmicky shortcut. Thomas Hiltachk, who specializes in ballot referenda that try to fool people in the titles and fine print, is sponsoring a ballot initiative for the June 3, 2008, California primary (which now falls four months after the state's presidential primary). The Presidential Election Reform Act would award the state's electoral votes based on who wins each congressional district. Had this idea been in effect in 2004, Bush would have won 22 electoral votes from California, about the same number awarded the winners of states like Illinois or Pennsylvania. In practical terms, adopting the initiative would mean that the Democratic candidate would likely have to win both Ohio and Florida in 2008 (instead of one or the other) to be elected.
The strategy is a simple one. Take 40% of the electoral votes in states dominated by the opposition party, add 100% of the electoral votes in states dominated by your own party and suddenly you've got a system where an extremely unpopular candidate could win the presidency while losing by 10 or 20 million votes nationwide.
Partisans who cheer the effort when it works to their advantage are typically outraged when the other guy pulls the same stunt:
North Carolina appears headed to becoming the third state in the nation to abandon the winner-take-all method for awarding its electoral votes as the House tentatively agreed Thursday to shelf the method.
Republicans called the change a cheap way to give Democrats, who have been shut out in North Carolina since 1980, some electoral votes.
"This is clearly a partisan bill. There's no question about that," said Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston. "You've got to change the law to make it an advantage."
Not that Republicans wouldn't trade a few votes in North Carolina for a couple of dozen in California.
And of course, partisans like the idea of a national popular vote even less than the current system. Governor Schwarzenegger, who hasn't taken a position on his lawyer's scheme (and denies being involved personally) vetoed a bill that would have given California's sizeable electoral to the overall winner.