Pennsylvania Republicans propose controversial changes to presidential voting system
Former Pennsylvania Gov. and Penn Professor Ed Rendell condemns possible alterations
September 28, 2011, 12:27 am · Updated September 29, 2011, 1:10 am·
Elizabeth Jacobs | DP
Republicans in Harrisburg are rocking the boat — not only with Democrats, but also with their Republican counterparts in Washington.
Dominic Pileggi, Pennsylvania senate majority leader, announced a proposal to restructure how the state votes in the presidential election. If the proposal is adopted, Pennsylvania electoral votes will be given to candidates based on congressional districts rather than a “winner take all” approach under which the state currently functions.
The new system would give two electoral votes to the winner of the overall vote automatically, but the rest of the electoral votes would be based on the popular vote of each district, meaning that there almost certainly would be a split vote in the Commonwealth and both candidates would receive Pennsylvania electoral votes. The Republicans in Harrisburg are also in charge of redistricting the state this year from the information gathered in the 2010 census, giving the party control over the Congressional District boundaries that would be determining the allocation of electoral votes in the new system.
The issue of the electoral voting system is a national issue, and Pennsylvania is not the only state to be considering it. In fact, two other states, Maine and Nebraska, have already adopted this system, though both are much smaller states than Pennsylvania in terms of electoral votes.
Pennsylvania, which is a major swing state given its 21 electoral votes, is a significant focus of most presidential election campaigns. Although almost always a close election, Pennsylvania electoral votes have not gone to a Republican candidate since 1988. This legislation could change that trend dramatically.
“The goal is to have the votes in the electoral college more closely reflect the popular vote,” Pileggi said. “This is one way to do that.” Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has endorsed the bill.
Although the bill is supported by the GOP in Harrisburg, many Washington Republicans are worried about the bill backfiring. If their candidate is polling well in Pennsylvania, the new system would do to the GOP what it is accused of trying to do to Democrats: split the vote so the candidate gets fewer electoral votes than the complete 21. Also, if the bill passes in Pennsylvania, other traditionally important states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio may propose similar bills — which the GOP does not want, given that it recently took control of those states.
On the other side, most Democrats are furious over the bill, but have very little power to influence the choice given their comparative numbers.
Former Democratic Gov. and Penn professor Ed Rendell said the bill will be detrimental to Pennsylvania’s importance in the national election, a fact that in the past has given Pennsylvania some leverage on the national stage.
Washington has historically been “much less eager to tick us off because it carries consequences come the presidential election … It takes away all of our clout,” Rendell said. “A lot of attention from presidential candidates and a lot of money is spent in Pennsylvania,” he added.
“[This bill] is not democratic, with a small ‘d’. It goes against the spirit of one person, one vote and it disenfranchises those districts that have a lot of Democrats or a lot of Republicans,” Rendell said.
“Voters know that they are contributing to a state wide total that will determine a candidate … now there is no motivation to get off your butt and vote [if you live in a district that is a high majority Democrat or Republican],” he added. He went on to say that the bill is “somewhere between reprehensible and despicable.”
State Sen. Daylin Leach, who has led the charge opposing the bill in Harrisburg, wrote in a Philly.com article: “We should be suspicious any time one political party unilaterally tries to directly affect the outcome of future elections. Republicans in Harrisburg want to award electoral votes according to congressional districts because they are in control of the current redistricting process. They want to be able to decide how many votes to guarantee future Republican presidential candidates.”