A Short-Sighted Maneuver by PA Legislators

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There is an effort underfoot in the Pennsylvania legislature to change the way the state awards its electoral votes.

PA Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi wants to allot Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes on a congressional district by district basis, rather than the current system of winner take all.

In a state like Pennsylvania, where Democratic candidates for President have won every election since 1988, it could be a way for Republicans to avoid a total loss.

For a number of reasons, I think this is a bad move.

Indeed Pennsylvania has gone Democrat in five consecutive presidential elections; however, this is far from a deep blue state.  The Republicans routed the Democrats in the 2010 election.  They picked up four House seats, a Senate seat, the governorship, and won control of both branches of the state legislature.  President Obama is polling about as well here as he is anywhere – meaning not well at all.  It might be a leaning-Democrat state, but a Republican victory here in 2012 is far from unlikely.  Therefore, the Republicans might wind up costing the GOP nominee up to ten electoral votes.

Pennsylvania Republicans could plausibly argue that they can’t really hurt the Republican candidate no matter how the election turns out.  President Obama could carry the state in an otherwise close election, and those 8-10 electoral votes could put the Republican nominee over the line.  If the Republican nominee does win Pennsylvania it most likely means that the election was otherwise a blowout, and the loss of those electoral votes won’t make a difference.

But if those extra votes do put a Republican in the White House the hue and cry will likely dwarf what we witnessed in Florida in 2000.  If President Obama narrowly carries Pennsylvania and, as would be likely in this scenario, the popular vote, then Pennsylvania splitting its vote in the Republican’s favor would look terrible, especially if the Republican gets all of Florida and/or Ohio’s electoral votes in similarly close races.  In other words, it ain’t gonna be pretty.  Now some people might not care and might think it just fine and dandy to utilize any means necessary to defeat President Obama.  But I think such an event would have unfortunate ramifications in the long-run.

Also, as a general principle I’m just not in favor of states doing this.  Sure, under the constitution states may award their electoral votes in any manner they deem appropriate.  Furthermore, Maine and Nebraska already have adopted this system.  But a state as large as Pennsylvania adopting this system could lead to far more states adopting this measure, further eroding the purpose of the electoral college.  I happen to like the electoral college, and anything that cast a shadow of doubt on its continued existence is deeply worrisome.

Long story short, I don’t think the state legislature has carefully thought out the long-term consequences of changing the electoral college allotment in Pennsylvania.  Here’s hoping that this doesn’t come to pass.

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  1. Democrats hate the electoral college so even if splitting it puts a Republican in the White House the outrage over the change would be somewhat subdued.

  2. Yes, both wings of the Democrat party – their left wing and their far-left wing – hate the Electoral College. So, if a state splits its distribution of Electoral College seats between the slates of two candidates and that puts a Republican in the White House you can bet that Democrats everywhere will be as mad as Wisconsin Democrats. Their screaming, name-calling and use of any excuse to bash the Electoral College will go on for years. It’ll be the trigger of the Democrats’ second “Selected, Not Elected” intifada.

  3. Another post on this topic on NRO by Tara Ross. She brings up a good point.

    Looking beyond Pennsylvania, national adoption of the district system could change the focus of presidential campaigns in negative ways. Instead of “swing states,” we’d have “swing districts.” This could unfortunately encourage the federal government to become even more entangled in purely local matters.

    Pennsylvania legislators should not implement a congressional district system based purely on partisan considerations. Perhaps they believe that NPV advocates have their own partisan reasons. The does not make such motivations any less unwise. Every state can make its own assessments on these matters and should make its own decision. But Pennsylvania legislators will serve their constituents — and their country — best if they remember to honestly assess what would serve their state, rather than their political party.

  4. This could unfortunately encourage the federal government to become even more entangled in purely local matters.

    It would be pleasant if she would provide for her readers the intermediate steps in this particular chain of reasoning.

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