Oh my: Pennsylvania weighing bill to allocate electoral votes by congressional district

posted at 6:56 pm on September 13, 2011 by Allahpundit

There are 20 EVs at stake, all of which have gone to Democrats in the last five presidential elections. So this is, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a big effing deal.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is trying to gather support to change the state’s “winner-takes-all” approach for awarding electoral votes. Instead, he’s suggesting that Pennsylvania dole them out based on which candidate wins each of the 18 congressional districts, with the final two going to the contender with the most votes statewide.

So far, the idea has received support from colleagues of the Delaware County Republican in the state House and from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Democrats, who have carried the state in presidential contests since 1992, said the shift would erode Pennsylvania’s clout…

An analysis by the online news service Capitolwire noted that had the proposed distribution process been in place in Pennsylvania in 2008 before the state lost one congressional district due to a population decline in the 2010 census, Mr. Obama would have won only 11 of the state’s 21 votes.

Here’s the district-by-district breakdown from 2008. The new rule wouldn’t have affected the outcome of that election, obviously, but a 10-vote flip might affect it next year. What’s happening here is simple, yet strange: You’ve got a state that’s been reliably blue in presidential elections over the last two decades now suddenly completely red at the top thanks to last November’s GOP wave. Tom Corbett, the new governor, is a Republican and Republicans control both houses of the state legislature. You might think under those circumstances that the party would be willing to take its chances with winner-take-all next year, especially with The One’s job approval in Pennsylvania now in the low 40s, but I guess local GOP wise men have less faith in a sustainable conservative majority in the state than the base does. A lot less faith, actually — the net effect of apportioning EVs by district will be to essentially detonate Pennsylvania’s stature as a prime swing state worthy of the candidates’ attention. Obama and the Republican nominee will show up if 20 votes are in the balance, but if only four or five are, who cares? The GOP’s attitude apparently is that they’re better off banking a minimum of six or seven EVs each election than playing for 20 on what’s been, in recent history, unfavorable turf.

One nice thing about doing it this way, though, is that each voter’s vote will count more. Tonight’s special election in NY-9 is proof enough of that: Ain’t no way no how no chance New York State is going red next year, but if NYS followed Pennsylvania’s lead, there’d be a very good chance of the GOP picking up a few EVs here and there by district. Exit question: Are there any other states in Pennsylvania’s strange situation, where the state’s broken for one party consistently in presidential votes but is now totally controlled by the other party? I can’t think of one offhand.

Update: Good catch by commenters. There are actually two other states in the same situation as Pennsylvania — Michigan and Wisconsin. Both have been voting Democratic for president since the Clinton years (Wisconsin broke for Dukakis in 1988, in fact) and both are now controlled by Republican governors and legislatures. Will they move towards a district-by-district system too now? Stay tuned.

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The Dems will fight tooth-and-nail to keep winner-keep-all in formerly blue states because they’ll think they can ride vote fraud in places like Milwaukee, Madison, Philly, Detroit, and elsewhere to victory.

teke184 on September 13, 2011 at 8:13 PM

It is getting harder to cheat in Michigan. The city of Detroit fell down to about 715K residents in the last census, down from over 2 million in the 1950 census. So there are fewer potential voters there, and thus fraud will be harder to use as a way to rig state wide elections.

This probably is why the state swung red in 2010. One of the Dem districts is also going away in the SE portion of the state. The only blue districts left are in the SE part of the state.

karenhasfreedom on September 13, 2011 at 10:15 PM

karenhasfreedom on September 13, 2011 at 10:15 PM

Democratic voters don’t just move away, they vote forever. There are probably dozens that could break the world records for old age.

slickwillie2001 on September 13, 2011 at 10:24 PM

I have been arguing for just exactly this sort of electoral vote reform for years. The problem is that when it has come up for a vote, the large metropolises tend to vote overwhelmingly against it and it doesn’t pass. Colorado was the last state to put this to referendum and it was shot down.

This is exactly the sort of electoral vote reform we need to eliminate “flyover country” and make large areas of Republican districts actually count.

crosspatch on September 13, 2011 at 11:04 PM

I think this is the most fair way to allocate electors… with 2 electors going to who wins the state… this is much better than national popular vote compact…

The problem with it is it raises the stakes for gerrymandering.

ninjapirate on September 13, 2011 at 7:09 PM

But it lowers the value of voter fraud. In Illinois, even an extra 2 million fraudulent votes in chicago will actually only influence 2 electoral votes. If on the other hand they do a sundial redistricting to put some of Chicago in all the states congressional districts, they will have more risk of losing Machine politicians to reformers (the City Fathers would never thake the risk).

KW64 on September 13, 2011 at 11:15 PM

This is exactly the sort of electoral vote reform we need to eliminate “flyover country” and make large areas of Republican districts actually count.

crosspatch on September 13, 2011 at 11:04 PM


This, and fix the primary system. If every district knew that it actually counted, wouldn’t that assuage some of the concerns by the smaller states that they won’t count against the larger states at primary time unless they’re way early? If every district in NH was weighed equally against individual districts in, say, CA, I think voter perception would be that the power of bigger states was broken down and the field leveled out.

TexasDan on September 13, 2011 at 11:55 PM

When this was proposed nationally in the 60’s, it was pointed out that Nixon would have beaten Kennedy under it. Of course back then, house seats were not uniform in size. IIRC, in Michigan there was one Detroit house seat which had five times the population of one rural seat. Those days are over (Baker v. Carr), so this change might make some sense.

levi from queens on September 14, 2011 at 7:22 AM

While I like the idea in terms of gauranteeing that Obama does not get all 20 EVs from PA in 2012, this is another step toward destroying federalism.

The 2 biggest steps in destroying the concept of state’s rights and limited federal power was direct election of Senators, which took away all of the the states’ governments’ direct influence on the federal gov’t and, of course, the ridiculously broad interpretation of the commerce clause by SCOTUS, which gives the federal gov’t almost unfettered power.

Breaking up state electoral votes won’t have any impact in that regard, but further waters down the concept of state’s being separate, sovereign entities and instead further solidifies the idea of states as mere subdivisions of the federal gov’t. Such perceptions are important in the arguments for states’ rights, federalism, and limited federal gov’t. If a vast majority of the population sees states as simple subdivisions of the federal gov’t (which a lot do), it is hard to win that argument.

Moreover, while this step is likely to help in the next election, it is the type of thing that could easily backfire in an election down the road, w/ a democrat winning the presidency by just the electoral votes in PA that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Monkeytoe on September 14, 2011 at 8:20 AM

Very bad idea.

Here’s why: if the Dems retake the state locally, they will immediately repeal this. So if the state goes red we lose EVs because the GOP passed this, but if the state goes blue later we’ll lose the EVs this would have given us anyway.

The only way this helps the GOP is if the state goes blue for the 2012 Presidential election.

TallDave on September 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Moreover, while this step is likely to help in the next election, it is the type of thing that could easily backfire in an election down the road, w/ a democrat winning the presidency by just the electoral votes in PA that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Monkeytoe on September 14, 2011 at 8:20 AM

Pennsylvania is bluer than the “average” Presidential vote, so that allocating EVs by district in PA is likely to help Republicans over the “winner-take-all” system in effect in most states (all except ME and NE for now). Even though Republicans control the state legislature for now, PA is unlikely to become a true “red” state on the Presidential level because of huge numbers of hard-core Democrats in Philly and Pittsburgh, somewhat balanced by a more conservative electorate in suburban and rural areas. It would be unlikely for a Republican to win PA while losing more “purple” swing states such as FL or OH.

On a more philosophical level, the decision to allocate EVs by district (with the state winner getting 2 EVs to represent the state’s Senators) becomes a blatant political calculation.

If one party controls the State legislature AND its Presidential candidates usually win the state, the majority party will probably continue the winner-take-all system. For example, California (dominated by Democrats) and Texas (dominated by Republicans) will probably retain the winner-take-all system, so that the minority candidate gets NO Electoral Votes, instead of the 10 or so EVs the minority candidate could win under a district-winner system.

But if a party takes over the State Legislature and/or Governorship in a state that usually votes for the other party in a Presidential election (such as PA), the allocation of EVs by district dilutes the impact of a Presidential candidate winning the statewide vote. But if Democrats took over the State legislatures of Presidential “red” states like AL, AZ, AR, GA, IN, LA, NC, TN, or VA, they could also start allocating EVs by district, giving Democrats some precious EVs in urban areas of the normally “solid red” South.

If a district-winner system was instituted nationwide, it would diminish the importance of a few states (FL, OH, PA, VA, MO, CO) relative to the others, and force candidates to campaign nationwide in about 100 or so “swing districts”. The problem is, the Constitution leaves the allocation of EVs to the State Legislatures, who can choose a system based on the political balance in each Legislature, and we could end up with a hodgepodge of different rules in different states. So far, only ME and NE have gone for the district-winner system, which can affect a maximum of 3 EVs (2 in NE, 1 in ME), but if a large state such as PA adopts such a system, it could open a HUGE can of worms…

Steve Z on September 14, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Isn’t the Constitution silent on how states decide to allocate their EVs? The important idea was that there be some kind of intermediary between the people and the candidates. A candidate could still lose the popular vote and win more electors this way. I don’t know that you can say with certainty the founders would or would not have favored this.

bcm4134 on September 13, 2011 at 7:07 PM

The Constitution says that the State Legislatures choose the “Electors” for each state, who in fact elect the President. State Legislatures could, if they wished, bypass a Presidential election altogether and appoint a slate of electors pledged to a given candidate, which is what the Florida State Legislature (controlled by Republicans at the time) threatened to do if the Bush/Gore recount in 2000 was not resolved by the deadline specified by the 25th Amendment.

It has become “customary” over the years that most States allow each candidate to appoint “electors” pledged to them, and that the candidate winning the state’s popular vote in a Presidential election has his “electors” vote for him on a winner-take-all basis.
But the Constitution does not require a winner-take-all system, or any specified system for appointing “electors”, and leaves this choice to the State Legislatures.

Steve Z on September 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Allocating the “House” portion the electoral vote by Congressional district is NOT, repeat NOT antithetical to the concept of federalism.

Steve Eggleston on September 13, 2011 at 7:50 PM

It might not be antithetical to the concept of federalism, but it is surely antithetical to the practice.

If states are not deciding who should be president as states, we can wave goodbye to whatever is left of the old republic. I am not arguing the legality of splitting the college, just the wisdom. The electoral college already weights the states’ voices anyway. This was supposed to be a close election. There was nothing close about it.

If we lose the college, then we should move to one state, one vote; we should go senate. Not house. And if we really are going toward the popular vote, we need to lose the college altogether, because it is only going to be a source of error from the granularity.

Axe on September 14, 2011 at 11:04 AM

We’re praying! Hey, are you moving to Texas? Love to have you!!

Susanboo on September 13, 2011 at 8:01 PM

Yes. East Texas. Probably the area north of Tyler. We have family that’s moved out there and they like it a lot.

And, we promise to vote republican. lol.

trigon on September 13, 2011 at 8:10 PM

They are a bit snooty in east Texas. But that’s probably because they are a bit better then everyone else, and like a pretty girl, they sort of naturally know it. Heh. They are also some of the best friends you can have.

Please consider visiting Natchitoches around Christmas!

Its not too far.

Axe on September 14, 2011 at 11:19 AM

*If states are not deciding who should be president as states

I was trying to widen the argument … but too wide I think now. Your comments were toward something much narrower.

Hindsight. Eyes. Butt. Perfect vision. Etc.

Axe on September 14, 2011 at 11:28 AM