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Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature are trying to undermine Philadelphia in a new proposal to change the way the state’s electoral votes are distributed.

In 2008, Pennsylvania had 21 electoral votes; after the 2010 census, that number was decreased to 20. A change in the number of congressional districts requires redistricting — in Pennsylvania’s case, the state is currently being redistricted to reduce the number of congressional districts from 19 to 18, and since Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship, they get to draw the new map. Their proposed map will create 12 safe Republican districts and 6 safe Democratic districts. While Democrats have a 1.1 million voter-registration edge in this state, the Republicans’ plan, though not necessarily representative of the make-up of the state, is perfectly legal.

Redistricting happens every 10 years, but something different is going on this year — something that has Democrats, and anyone who believes in the principles of democracy, in uproar. Harrisburg Republicans are trying to change the electoral vote distribution in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, like all states besides Nebraska and Maine, has a winner-take-all system for electoral votes: the winner of the state’s popular vote in the presidential election wins all of the state’s electoral votes. In Nebraska (5 electoral votes) and Maine (4 electoral votes), electoral votes are distributed according to congressional district: the winner of the popular vote within each Congressional district gets one electoral vote; the winner of the state’s popular vote gets the extra two electoral votes.

This system works in small states with few electoral votes. But now, Harrisburg Republicans are trying to bring the system of congressional apportionment to Pennsylvania. The Republicans’ motivation is clear: Democratic presidential candidates have won the state’s electoral votes for the last 20 years. By tying the vote to gerrymandered congressional districts, Republicans can ensure that President Barack Obama won’t be able to win more than 8 of the 20 electoral votes in the 2012 election.

The Republicans’ sinister motivations are blatantly obvious, but there are also a number of reasons why this proposed system would be devastating for Pennsylvania.

First, the proposal would make Pennsylvania elections less democratic. Under the current system, campaigns can turn out voters for both candidates. The candidate with the most votes wins the electoral votes. Under the proposed system, voter turnout wouldn’t really matter. As Pennsylvania voters, our votes will be irrelevant; Harrisburg Republicans essentially just cast our presidential votes for us by drawing us into heavily Republican or heavily Democratic congressional districts.

Furthermore, the proposed system dilutes the votes of urban Pennsylvanians. Almost half of all Pennsylvanians live in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, but congressional districts have been drawn in such a way that residents of these cities only fit into a few districts. So if Philadelphia voters turn out to vote in November 2012, as they have in other national elections, the over 500,000 votes cast in Philadelphia will count toward the same number of electoral votes as will the 20,000 votes cast in a rural county. In fact, Gov. Tom Corbett admitted in a radio interview that the proposed solution aims to reduce Philadelphia’s effect in allocating the state’s current electoral votes — he claims the proposal will help voters who have “not been represented because of the huge turnout in Philadelphia.”

Changing election policies to dilute the “huge turnout in Philadelphia” is inherently wrong, not to mention antagonistic to the minority voters who make up the majority of Philly’s voting base. If Corbett wants to decrease Philadelphia’s influence, he should work to increase voting rates in other parts of the state, not decrease the significance of a vote in Philadelphia in comparison to one in western Pennsylvania.

Second, the proposed system would decrease Pennsylvania’s significance in national elections. Pennsylvania is currently a competitive state with 20 electoral votes in play; presidential candidates naturally hold campaign events here, which makes them more accountable to issues important to Pennsylvanians.

And third, this proposal would set a precedent for future restrictive voting policies. The Republican state legislature is already trying to make it harder for young people and minorities to vote through its proposed intricate voter identification laws. Changing the electoral vote distribution would lay the groundwork for more laws aimed at restricting the votes of demographics that traditionally vote Democrat.

There is something to be said for a system of government that elects Congress members, senators and the president by three different means. This attempt by Harrisburg Republicans to change the way these elections are held, to sculpt the results of Pennsylvania elections so that they reflect less the popular vote and more the wishes of the Republican legislature is deplorable and should not be allowed to pass.

Emma Ellman-Golan, a College senior, is a former president of the Penn Democrats. Her email address is

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