Voters last elected a Republican governor in Washington in 1980.
Now a GOP state lawmaker is pursuing a potential way of ending a historic losing streak that started when Republican Gov. John Spellman lost his re-election bid in 1984.
Republican Rep. Brad Klippert of Kennewick is proposing that governors be elected with an electoral college system rather than the popular vote.
He got the idea from a constituent and thinks it would assure voters in his 8th Legislative District east of the mountains and across the state that they “have more of a say” in the outcome.
It’s aimed at amplifying the voice of rural voters frustrated with the influence of the liberal electorate in urban areas in statewide elections.
“People over and over and over again tell me, ‘I don’t participate because Seattle controls who represents us in the governor’s office,’ ” Klippert said. “I tell them it’s not true and that if everyone votes, results could be different.”
With presidential electors, each state gets a number of votes equal to the number of senators and representatives in its congressional delegation — two votes for the senators plus one for each House member. Washington has 12 electoral votes.
Overall, there are 538 votes in the Electoral College — one for each member of Congress plus three allocated to the District of Columbia.
Under Klippert’s bill, a total of 147 gubernatorial electoral votes would be allocated among the state’s 39 counties. A candidate would need at least 74 votes to win.
Each county would receive a minimum of one electoral vote. The state’s redistricting commission would allot the remaining 108 votes based on population using the “method of equal proportions” used to apportion seats for the U.S. House of Representatives.
This work would occur every decade when the commission convenes to adjust boundaries of the state’s legislative districts.
Under the bill, if two or more candidates tied for the most electoral votes, then the person with the most votes overall would be ruled the winner.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, said she had not reviewed the bill but would be available to work on the language if asked to do so.
Klippert said he had not done the math to know how many votes each county would receive using the 2010 Census. But he’s confident making the change would lead to different outcomes than what’s occurred the past 40 years.
“I certainly do,” he said. “If I didn’t think it was fair and equitable for all voters of Washington, I wouldn’t have run the bill.”
Depending on how votes are spread among counties, it is conceivable for a Republican to be elected governor without winning the state’s popular vote.
In Washington, two-thirds of counties regularly vote for Republican candidates for governor. The party doesn’t win statewide because several of the more populous counties tend to favor Democrats.
King County, with nearly 2 million residents, casts a huge shadow across the entire electoral landscape with its heavy Democratic leanings. Snohomish County, the third most populous, has voted Democratic in every gubernatorial election since 2004.
King County has 1.43 million registered voters. By contrast, nine counties have fewer than 15,000 registered voters, including Garfield in Eastern Washington with just 1,687.
Gov. Jay Inslee won a third term in November despite winning a majority of votes in only 12 counties. He only won eight counties in 2012 and nine in his 2016 re-election.
Had an electoral college-style system been in place in 2012, Inslee might not have beaten Republican Rob McKenna.
That year McKenna, then the state’s attorney general, won in 31 counties including six of the most populous — Pierce, Spokane, Clark, Yakima, Kitsap and Skagit. McKenna might have wound up with a majority of county electors — even though he had fewer votes — depending on the distribution.
Inslee captured King County by nearly 230,000 votes, and that margin ultimately carried him to victory.
Klippert’s bill will be formally introduced when the Legislature convenes Jan. 11, and he will then work to get it a hearing in the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee.