Sarasota Republican Wants To Change How Florida Casts Electoral Votes In Presidential Elections

Nov 15, 2013

State Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota.

A Sarasota Republican is trying to change how Florida casts its coveted electoral votes.

Part of what makes cable news pundits watch Florida closely during presidential elections is not just that it’s a swing state, or that it’s prone to problems at the polls.

It’s the state’s electoral votes.

Florida has a whopping 29 electoral votes that go to whichever presidential candidate wins the most votes statewide.

This “winner-take-all” system is part of the reason why Florida has mostly Republican-held congressional districts, yet has voted for a Democratic president in the past two elections.

That’s because Florida’s biggest cities are voting in sweeping numbers for Democrats. So, in any vote that relies on a statewide total, Democrats have a big edge.

State Rep.Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, wants to change that. For the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee, Pilon will propose a bill that would divvy up Florida’s electoral votes according to congressional district.

He said the current system is crowding out votes from people living in rural parts of the state, which are mostly Republican voters.

“Just seemed logical to me that whether it’s my community or whether it’s a rural community that the people that are in that community when they vote for president of the United States their voices need to be heard,” he said. “The only way they can be heard is that their vote gets cast for the candidate that wins the majority in that congressional district.”

Pilon said his bill is not about political parties. He said it’s about fairness.

But Democrats, who have the most to lose if that bill becomes law, say it’s a way to rig the system so Republicans can win presidential elections.

“Republicans want to change the rules of the game because they can’t win under the existing rules,” said Joshua Karp, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.

He said this bill would actually subvert the popular vote in Florida by giving Republicans an edge that doesn’t exist.

“People just don’t vote for them,” Karp said. “So, they want to use gerrymandered congressional districts to rig their game and that’s just not fair. They are being sore losers.”

This argument comes up almost every four years, said Susan McManus, a political expert and a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. 

McManus said the argument is not even so much a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s a winner versus loser issue.

“The views on this are very much in the eyes of the beholder,” she said. “The beholder being the party who loses wants to change they don’t like winner take all. The party who wins does and that’s just really the simple fact.”

McManus said this year was particularly tough for Republicans because it was so close in Florida. She said if it wasn’t “winner-take-all”, Mitt Romney might have won most of the state’s electoral votes.

Either way, she said, this bill is not likely to go very far.

McManus said the Electoral College itself isn’t very popular. Most voters would actually prefer if elections were only tied to the popular vote. In those terms, McManus said a “winner take all” system is actually closer to the popular vote compared to allotting individual votes to each congressional district.

And it’s not just Florida taking another look at its electoral votes.

Michigan and Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislatures are also working to introduce similar legislation.

Pilon said part of his reasoning for introducing the bill is so that the state can take part in this national debate, as well.