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California electoral-vote plan could sway 2008 US presidential race

In U.S. presidential elections, California awards its 55 electoral votes to the statewide winner - the largest single prize in the country.

But a new Republican-backed ballot proposal could give the statewide winner just two votes and split the rest in the Democratic-leaning state between the Democratic and Republican nominees, tilting the 2008 presidential election in favor of the Republicans.

In the United States, when a candidate wins the most popular votes in a state, he or she also wins the state's electoral votes, which in the end are the votes that put a president in office. The number of electoral votes is equal to the state's number of U.S. senators and representatives.

But the California proposal wants to split up that block of electoral votes and award them 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.

California has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections. But the change - if it qualifies for a ballot next year and is approved by voters - would mean that a Republican would be positioned to win 20 or more electoral votes in Republican-leaning districts. That is a number equal to winning Ohio, another key election state.

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," Lehane said in an e-mail.

The so-called Presidential Election Reform Act is being pushed by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer in a firm that represents the California Republican Party and has worked with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He did not return phone messages left Monday at his office.

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said the governor is not involved with the proposed initiative, and party officials said they have no connection to it.

President George W. Bush carried 22 districts in 2004, while losing the statewide vote by double digits.

Only Maine and Nebraska 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."

California already moved its presidential primary to Feb. 5 in an attempt to increase its clout in national politics.

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