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A quiet but important initiative

July 21, 2007 |  3:44 pm

Are Republicans plotting to win some of California's 55 electoral votes for a change?

This week, according to The Times' Joe Mathews, a Republican law firm in Sacramento quietly filed a ballot initiative that would end the practice of granting all of the state's electoral votes to the top vote-getter in California.

Instead, California would dole out one electoral vote to the winner of each of the 53 congressional districts. The extra two electoral votes would continue to be awarded to the overall winner in the state.

Democrats have won all of California's electoral votes in the past four presidential elections. But the initiative, if it reached the ballot and was approved by voters, would almost certainly change that. Nineteen of the 53 Congressional seats are held by Republicans, so it stands to reason that a Republican presidential candidate would win most of those districts.

Who is behind the initiative? No one is saying, but tongues are wagging. Tom Hiltachk, a partner in the firm, Bell McAndrews & Hiltachk, filed the initiative with the attorney general's office, and his is the only name on it. He's an initiative specialist who has handled Republican causes and candidates, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The firm also has done work for the California Republican Party.

Hiltachk didn't immediately return a phone call. But two initiative industry practitioners, speaking to Mathews on condition of anonymity, suspect the firm is prospecting for business -- filing an initiative in hopes that it will attract the attention and money of Republicans.

Another potential beneficiary could be Schwarzenegger's billionaire buddy Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, who recently abandoned the Republican party. He's considering an independent campaign for the presidency.

Mathews reports the language of the initiative also specifically adds "independent candidate" to the California Election Code, making it clear that even a candidate without a party could receive electoral votes. The initiative also argues that the current, winner-take-all system "impedes credible third party or independent candidacies for President." The initiative's text is available by clicking here.

California would not be alone. Maine (since 1972) and Nebraska (since 1996) award electoral votes by congressional district.

--Andrew Malcolm

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