A Republican-backed ballot proposal could split left-leaning California between the Democratic and GOP nominees, tilting the 2008 presidential election in favor of the Republicans.

California awards its cache of 55 electoral votes to the statewide winner in presidential elections — the largest single prize in the nation. But a prominent Republican lawyer wants to put a proposal on the ballot that would award the statewide winner only two electoral votes.

The rest would be distributed 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 one of two primary ballots next year and is approved by voters — would mean that a Republican would be positioned the following November to snatch 20 or more electoral votes in GOP-leaning districts.

That's a number equal to winning Ohio.

The so-called Presidential Election Reform Act is being pushed by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer in a Sacramento firm that represents the California Republican Party and has worked with Gov. 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.

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.

Nineteen of the state's 53 congressional districts are represented by Republicans. President 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."

"We'll take a serious look at it, once it qualifies for the ballot," state Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said.

If it does qualify, Democrats probably would have to spend millions of dollars to defeat it, which could drain money from other races. And there are expected to be additional ballot proposals on abortion and other social issues that could drive up GOP turnout.

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

In that primary, Republicans will award delegates only to the top vote-getter in each congressional district. A Democrat can qualify for a delegate by winning at least 15 percent of the vote in a district.