Street Corner Soapbox: Changing the Electoral College

Categories:  Street Corner Soapbox    News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 at 9:49 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: Changing the Electoral College by Jay Stevens

Back in 2011, Pennsylvania Republicans proposed changing the way our state doles out its 20 Electoral College votes – the votes that determine the outcome of the presidential election. Currently, whichever candidate wins the state’s popular vote wins all of its Electoral College votes, but Republicans considered changing to a system that gives out these votes based on the candidate’s performance in each of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional districts.

Endorsed by such leaders as Gov. Tom Corbett and State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, the proposal was an example of egregiously unethical partisan gamesmanship. Thanks to the redistricting efforts of the Republican-controlled Assembly, Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts have been gerrymandered into safe conservative havens. Consider: of the state’s 18 Congressional districts, 13 were won by Republicans despite the fact that Republican candidates won only 49 percent of the votes cast in House elections. If the proposal had been put into effect before the election, President Obama would have won only 7 of Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes, despite winning 52 percent of the votes cast in Pennsylvania.

Undemocratic? Hell, yeah. Which may be why so many across the country reacted negatively to the proposal, and our state’s partisan guttersnipes were shamed into killing the plan.

But wait! Like a monster from a schlocky teen horror movie, this issue ain’t dead. Pileggi sent out a memorandum to all state senators warning them he’s going to introduce a bill that would allot Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes proportionately, based on the state’s popular vote. In 2012, for example, Obama would have been awarded 12 of the state’s 20 Electoral College votes, instead of all 20. This system, he explained, “more accurately reflects the will of the voters in our state.”

Like all of the best lies, this one contains a significant chunk of the truth. Yes, allotting Electoral College votes proportionately by popular vote does more accurately reflect the will of the state. But context matters. Like, for instance, the fact that a Democratic presidential candidate has won Pennsylvania in every election since 1992 -- meaning that Peleggi’s plan would steal some electoral college votes from a reliably blue state. Or that no red state has made similar plans to allot its Electoral College votes proportionally, thus balancing out Pennsylvania’s lost likely Democratic votes with Republican ones.

That is, Pileggi’s system works only if all the states distributed their Electoral College votes in the same manner. That would actually be a more fair system, ensuring that the winner of the national popular vote would also win the election. (The way the election is currently set up, a candidate can win the presidency, but not the popular vote -- just as George W. Bush did in 2000.) Until all states do the same, however, Pileggi’s proposal is simply a naked attempt to skew election results towards Republican presidential candidates.

Behind it all – like so much of the worst, anti-democratic legislation – exists a deep-pocketed shadowy organization called “All Votes Matter,” which hired a bunch of former Republican senate staffers to distribute tens of thousands of dollars to legislators to drum up support for legislation to change the electoral college procedure. And while the donors behind the group remain secret, is it a coincidence that legislatures in states that reliably opt for Democrats, like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, are currently mulling similar legislation?

With these bills, combined with voter ID laws and other similar efforts to skew elections, it’s obvious that the Republican party – faced with a shrinking base, and reaping the fruit of its legislative and economic priorities – has rejected changing with the times.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at

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