- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A prominent Republican lawyer wants to put a proposal on the California ballot next year that could shake up the 2008 presidential contest to his party’s advantage.

California awards its 55 electoral votes to the statewide winner — the largest single prize in the nation. But under the proposal, the statewide winner would get only two electoral votes. The rest would be distributed to the winning candidate in each of the state’s congressional districts. In effect, that would create 53 races, each with one electoral vote up for grabs.

The state voted Democratic in the past four presidential elections. But the change — if it qualifies for one of two primary ballots early next year and is approved by voters — would mean a Republican would be positioned the following November to win about 20 electoral votes in Republican-leaning districts. That is a number equal to winning Ohio.

The Presidential Election Reform Act is being pushed by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer in a Sacramento firm that represents the California Republican Party and worked with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He did not return phone messages left yesterday at his office. A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said the governor is not involved with the proposed initiative.

Democratic consultant Chris Lehane called the plan “an effort to rig the system in order to fix the election.”

“If this change is made, it will virtually guarantee that a Republican wins the White House in 2008,” Mr. Lehane said in an e-mail.

Nineteen of the state’s 53 congressional districts are represented by Republicans. President Bush carried 22 districts in 2004, while losing the statewide vote by double digits. Maine and Nebraska now allocate electoral votes by congressional district.

A draft of the proposed initiative says nixing the winner-take-all system would give presidential candidates “an incentive to campaign in California. … Many of the geographic areas of the state would be as important to a candidate’s chance for victory as many of the smaller states.”

“We’ll take a serious look at it, once it qualifies for the ballot,” said state Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring.

If it does qualify, Democrats probably would spend millions of dollars against it, which could drain money from other races.