(CBS NEWS) -- President Obama won the popular presidential vote in November by slightly less than five million votes:
The president received about 65.9 million votes to Mitt Romney's 60.9
million. Of course, it's not the popular vote that matters, as 2000
popular vote winner Al Gore could tell you. It's electoral votes that
decide who becomes president.
Mr. Obama's electoral
vote victory was actually significantly larger than his 3.9 percentage
point popular vote advantage: He took 332 electoral votes to 206 for
Romney. Why the disparity? In part because of the way electoral votes
are allocated. Most states allocate their electoral votes based on who
wins the popular vote: Even though Mr. Obama only won Florida narrowly
in November, for instance, he got all 29 of its electoral votes.
are two states that do things differently. In Nebraska and Maine,
electoral votes are allocated based on who wins each congressional
district. That means that the winner of the statewide popular vote
doesn't necessarily get all of a state's electoral votes - or even the
majority of them.
The allocation system used by Nebraska
and Maine has never been seen as a big deal, because neither state
plays a very big role in deciding the president. (Between them, they
only controlled nine electoral votes in 2012.) But a push by Republicans
in some crucial swing states to adopt the system used in those two
small states has Democrats accusing the GOP of effectively plotting to
steal the next presidential election.
lawmakers in at least five big states that went to Mr. Obama in November
have floated measures to allocate electoral votes based on the outcome
in congressional districts: Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and
Pennsylvania. In Virginia, a bill to shift to such a system goes to a
state senate committee on Tuesday. State Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr.,
who sponsored the bill, told the Washington Post that
it would mean that smaller, non-urban communities would have more say
in the presidential election.
"The last election, constituents were
concerned that it didn't matter what they did, that more densely
populated areas were going to outvote them," he said. (In Carrico's
bill, the state's two at-large electors would go to whoever wins the
most congressional districts.)
Mr. Obama won four districts in Virginia in 2012.
Romney won seven. Under Carrico's plan, Romney would have taken nine of
Virginia's 13 electoral votes, while Mr. Obama would have taken just
four - despite winning the statewide vote by almost 150,000 votes. This
is due in large part to the fact that Romney won most of his districts
relatively narrowly - he took more than 60 percent of the vote in just
one of them - while Mr. Obama won his districts by large margin, taking
at least 60 percent of the vote in three of his four districts.
sore losers, it's a sore losers bill," said Virginia Democratic state
senator and former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds. "We're going to
do everything we can to defeat it."
political science professor Alan Abramowitz, who considers the Carrico
proposal and those like it to be "profoundly undemocratic" because it
skews election results toward the party that has drawn gerrymandered
congressional districts, found that if all states had allocated
electoral votes in 2012 by congressional district, Romney would have taken 276 electoral votes (and with them the presidency) to Mr. Obama's 262 electoral votes.
That's despite Mr. Obama's nearly 5 million vote advantage in the
popular vote. (Abramowitz' calculation was based on the notion that the
two at-large electors would go to the statewide popular vote winner, not
whoever won the most congressional districts.)
to Abramowitz, Romney would have won 12 out of 18 electoral votes in
Ohio, nine out of 16 electoral votes in Michigan, 12 out of 20 electoral
votes in Pennsylvania, and five out of 10 electoral votes in Wisconsin -
despite losing all four states, in some cases by large margins.
(Because of incomplete data, he had to estimate from previous data in
some Pennsylvania districts.)
It's no coincidence
that the states where Republicans are pushing proposals to shift to
allocation based on congressional districts were all won by Mr. Obama in
November - but are controlled by Republicans on a statewide level.
Reince Priebus, the newly reelected chair of the Republican National
Committee, said Friday that while such efforts are a "state issue," he
is "pretty intrigued by it" and believes "in some cases they should look
In Michigan, Rep. Pete Lund, a Republican who plans to
introduce a bill soon, told the Detroit News
that it would make the system "more representative of the people --
closer to the actual vote." Lund, who introduced a similar measure last
year, added that part of the reason it did not get traction lat time is
that there "were people convinced Romney was going to win and this might
take (electoral) votes from him."
It's not clear just how far these proposals will get this time
around: The Virginia plan may well not get out of committee, since two Republican state senators on the committee on record as opposing it. Even if it does clear the legislature, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., said Friday he would oppose the measure.
measures have been introduced in the past and failed to get anywhere -
and it's worth noting that it hasn't always been by Republicans. As
Deeds acknowledged, Virginia Democrats pushed similar bills back when
they were regularly losing the state of a presidential level.
to such proposals point out that moving to such a system would have the
effect of making the candidates far less interested in campaigning in
what had previously been swing states - depriving the state of millions
of dollars that would have otherwise flowed in during the campaign.
Richie, executive director of the nonprofit electoral reform group
FairVote, said that moving to a system of allocation based on
congressional district would shift candidates' focus of to suburban
districts, since those are the ones that tend to be competitive.
presidency would be decided not in America, but suburban America," he
said. Richie, who advocates a system by which states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, called the proposals "the wrong fix for a real problem."
doesn't fix what's really broken about our current system," he said.
"And added to that, has incredibly indefensible partisan consequences." A
Gallup survey taken
earlier this month found that 63 percent of Americans, including more
than six in 10 Republicans, Democrats and independents, support "doing
away with the Electoral College and basing the election of the president
on the total vote cast throughout the nation."
the changes to get passed and signed into law, they could face legal
challenges. Columbia University election law expert Nathaniel Persily
said the Virginia law could potentially be challenged under the Voting
Rights Act, with an argument that the move discriminates against
African-Americans. He added that it could be challenged in any state
with a claim that it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th
amendment, and could also be challenged under the constitutions of the
Persily acknowledged, however, that the
courts have not struck down the system in the two states where it is
already in place.
"You have to think of a legal theory that would strike
this down but not strike down Maine and Nebraska," said Persily. "The
question is, does the motivation make a difference?" He said the
motivation argument could be made in the context of other recent moves
by Republicans, including the voter ID and early vote changes seemingly
designed to boost the GOP.
No matter how it played out, he added, passage of such laws would be "tantamount to a declaration of political nuclear war."