Pennsylvania GOP Moves to Limit an Obama Win in 2012

by on September 19, 2011 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, Election

Pennsylvania G.O.P. Weighs Electoral Vote Changes for 2012

By Katherine Q. Seelye / New York Times  / September 19, 2011

The newly empowered Republicans in Pennsylvania are considering changing the way the state awards its electoral votes in presidential elections despite growing concerns by some Republicans that the move could backfire

Former Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, calls the effort to change how electoral votes are awarded in Pennsylvania “somewhere between despicable and reprehensible.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has said he will support the measure.

A new bill would award electoral votes by Congressional district, all but guaranteeing that both candidates would win at least some electoral votes even if they lost the state’s popular vote. It could even swing the outcome of a close presidential election.

The measure is aimed in the near term at reducing President Obama’s total electoral votes in 2012; no Republican nominee has won Pennsylvania — or any of its electoral votes — since 1988.

Democrats loathe the idea, but they have no power to stop it. Some Republicans, too, are wary, worried that such a change could end up costing their candidate electoral votes and hurting their down-ballot candidates.

The bill appears on track for hearings early next month and could pass the Republican-controlled General Assembly in time for next year’s election. Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has said he will support it.

Now, Pennsylvania, like most states, has a “winner take all” system, in which the winner of the statewide popular vote gets all the electoral votes; in 2008, Barack Obama won 55 percent of the state’s popular vote and 100 percent of its 21 electoral votes.

The proposed change would award the electoral votes based on the winner of each Congressional district. Redistricting, which is controlled by Republicans, will leave Pennsylvania with 18 districts next year, 12 Republican seats and 6 Democratic seats. The state will have 20 electoral votes, one for each of the 18 House districts plus two others for its senators.

Under the proposal, the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote would win the two others. If the change were in place next year, Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could win the popular vote and carry the six Democratic districts but end up with just 8 electoral votes, while the Republican nominee would take 12.

Only two states, Nebraska and Maine, award their electoral votes by Congressional district. Both are small, so they are not good indicators for what this method might portend in a big state like Pennsylvania.

But a switch in Pennsylvania could have long-term national consequences. It could prompt similar moves in other big states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, where Republicans recently took control. It could even bolster the stalled movement to dump the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote, although that day seems a long way off.

The plan is being pushed in Harrisburg, the capital, by the Senate majority leader, Dominic Pileggi. He said Friday in an interview that the change would make the system more fair because voters in each Congressional district would be awarding their own electoral vote.

“The goal is to have the votes in the Electoral College more closely reflect the popular vote,” he said. “This is one way to do that.”

But Democrats say this would do the opposite and is aimed at reducing the influence of big Democratic districts like Philadelphia in presidential elections.

“The motivation for this is somewhere between despicable and reprehensible,” said former Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat. “In a close election, that could be devastating.”

Democrats also worry that splitting the electoral votes would diminish the state’s historic role as a presidential battleground because only a few electoral votes would be up for grabs. And candidates would skip most of the districts where the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Even some Republicans are worried that the proposal is a gamble and could backfire.

Many, including the state party chairman, Robert Gleason, are increasingly confident that a Republican can win the state outright in 2012. But under the proposal, the party’s nominee might win only 14 at best (12 from the Republican districts plus the two others). Moreover, the change could put some Republican members of Congress at risk.

G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said that Democrats would probably not bother spending time and money trying to increase turnout in Democratic strongholds like Philadelphia. Instead, he said, they would focus on trying to unseat the moderate Republicans who represent the swing suburban districts.

“I don’t think the Republican leaders have thought about the political consequences of this,” Dr. Madonna said, even though they are trying to strengthen the Republican districts as they redraw the Congressional boundaries. “They should be careful what they wish for.”

Representative Jim Gerlach, a Republican from Chester County in suburban Philadelphia, said he and his colleagues were still evaluating the bill. They want to try to meet its “goals,” he said, but without “unduly risking the future of our hard-fought and hard-won Congressional districts.”

At a state Republican meeting on Friday in Harrisburg, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee and the keynote speaker, told reporters that the decision was up to the state. Still, he said, “I have our sights set on winning 20 electoral votes in Pennsylvania.”

That would probably not happen under the proposed change because Mr. Obama would almost certainly carry at least Philadelphia.

Mr. Pileggi, the bill’s sponsor, said he had heard the growing complaints and was open to alternative suggestions.

Change, he said, “always brings questions and concerns and raises apprehension, and that’s a natural process,” he said. But he did not expect these concerns to stop his bill.

“If anything,” Mr. Pileggi said, “my original expectation for a timeline has accelerated.”


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Allen Lewis September 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Two things need to be changed in the US… one, is to do away with the electoral collage, “one person one vote” two, is to have a “flat tax for all”. O yes, three, do away with the massive amount of money spent on elections. four, kick out all in government and start fresh, they are all taking us to the bank. Did I say only two…Shit.


The Bearded Obecian September 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm

What’s interesting is that both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton proposed the same electoral partioning for VA and NY respectively.


toto September 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

Republican legislators seem quite “confused” about the merits of the congressional district method The leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party just adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their congressional district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support. While in Pennsylvania, Republican legislators are just as strongly arguing that they must change from the winner-take-all method to the congressional district method.

Dividing Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system and not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania.

The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all Pennsylvania districts and would not focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state as a whole. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind.

Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 Pennsylvania congressional districts were competitive.

In Maine, where they award electoral votes by congressional district, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored)

In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) 2/3rds of the state were irrelevant.

When votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When votes don’t matter, they ignore those areas.

Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. 88% of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.


toto September 20, 2011 at 10:13 am

A survey of 800 Pennsylvan­ia voters conducted on December 16-17, 2008 showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
Support was 87% among Democrats, 68% among Republican­s, and 76% among independen­ts.
By age, support was 77% among 18-29 year olds, 73% among 30-45 year olds, 81% among 46-65 year olds, and 78% for those older than 65.By gender, support was 85% among women and 71% among men.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere­, would be politicall­y relevant and equal in every presidenti­al election.

Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states wins the presidency­.

Minority party voters in each state and district would have a voice. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed iin recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO– 68%, IA –75%, MI– 73%, MO– 70%, NH– 69%, NV– 72%, NM– 76%, NC– 74%, OH– 70%, PA — 78%, VA — 74%, and WI — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –75%, ME — 77%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NV — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, and VT — 75%; in Southern and border states: AR –80%, KY — 80%, MS –77%, MO — 70%, NC — 74%, and VA — 74%; and in other states polled: CA — 70%, CT — 74% , MA — 73%, MN – 75%, NY — 79%, WA — 77%, and WV- 81%.

Come the end of voting on Election Day, most voters don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans consider the idea of the candidate with the most popular votes being declared a loser detestable. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

The bill has passed 31 state legislativ­e chambers, in 21 small, medium-sma­ll, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdicti­ons possess 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.



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