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SALMAGUNDI: Is it time to change Illinois' electoral vote rules?

There’s about 615 days until the next presidential election, but one Illinois Republican is already concerned about the state’s electoral votes.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, filed House Bill 3109 last week, a proposal that would award the state’s 20 electoral votes not to the candidate who gets the most votes statewide, but apportion them out across the 18 Congressional districts. The other two votes — one for each Senate seat — would go to the outright winner. Applying this math to the 2016 election would have given President Donald Trump seven electoral votes.

“Most states went to a process of awarding electoral votes in a winner-takes-all format because the major interests of a given state were generally shared statewide,” Butler said in announcing his bill. “Today, with the exponential growth in our nation’s population and our drastically different economy, that is no longer the case in many states.”

Butler noted a similar system is in place in Maine and Nebraska. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got three of Maine’s four electoral votes while Trump earned all five in Nebraska. According to Congressional Research Service reporting, this method spread across the country would’ve downgraded Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral haul from 365 (68 percent) to 303 (56 percent), bringing him much closer to the 53 percent nationwide popular vote victory.

Of course, that bit of mathematical analysis comes with an asterisk — voters turned out based on the rules at the time, and things might’ve been different had one vote been at stake for each congressional district. Proponents of plans like Butler’s know this to be the case, and in fact rely on that potential behavior to gin up support.

In a Congressional district that leans blue, drumming up support for a GOP candidate would be far easier if those voters felt their presidential vote made a difference. But that same likelihood motivates people backing a different reform movement, the National Popular Vote interstate compact.

According to fairvote.org, plans have been introduced in all 50 state legislatures to award a state’s votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. So far 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed such legislation, accounting for 165 electoral votes. The compact would take effect once the plan is ratified in states accounting for 270 electoral votes, the number needed to win an election.

Both approaches have the potential to increase voter participation, as both aim to give each individual’s vote something closer to equal weight than the current disproportion. But only Butler’s idea would give extra incentive to gerrymander political districts, something Illinois Democrats have mastered. Fixing that problem here and nationwide ought to be the top priority.

From The Mailbag

My Feb. 5 column about the importance of learning the Bible as a means of understanding literature and world history drew an enlightening response from reader John Omerod, of Sycamore. He’s been a substitute preacher at several churches in the area, including Open Table UCC in downtown Ottawa.

“In the 1960s, I took a class on the Bible at Ohio State University,” Omerod wrote. “It was offered through the English Department, and was taught by an stately, elderly gentleman who taught the material as literature and accomplished it professionally in a way that didn’t cater to any single set of religious convictions. The class material included quizzes on Middle Eastern geography, Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. It was his final class before retirement. Even then, at a time of political upheaval on campuses and skepticism of religion in general, he received a standing ovation from his 25 students on his last day of class. It was a brief but memorable moment. …

“I came to believe that, indeed, the Bible could be taught in high school and college classrooms were there a sensitive instructor willing to teach it as literature rather than church doctrine. … Biblical literature is best taught in the public sphere as analysis … analysis in all learning always trumps the limits of indoctrination and the subsequent refusal to allow for imagination.

“I have a long-standing fear, however, that well-meaning attempts to teach the Bible in public educational institutions in a fair and responsible way have been stymied by the influences that come, often, from powerful conservative religious groups within communities that have absolutely no clear understanding of the duty of analysis, especially in the realm of Christianity.”

I’m always interested to hear readers’ thoughts. Please reach out via email, newsroom@mywebtimes.com, or connect through the social media contacts listed below.

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