“Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top GOPers in both houses of the state Legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote

“[I]f the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state’s two senators) for winning the state. Since Obama would lose 12 electoral votes relative to the winner-take-all baseline, this would have an effect equivalent to flipping a medium-size winner-take-all state—say, Washington, which has 12 electoral votes—from blue to red. And Republicans wouldn’t even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it…

“It doesn’t necessarily end there. After their epic sweep of state legislative and gubernatorial races in 2010, Republicans also have total political control of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, three other big states that traditionally go Democratic and went for Obama in 2008. Implementing a Pennsylvania-style system in those three places—in Ohio, for example, Democrats anticipate controlling just 4 or 5 of the state’s 16 congressional districts—could offset Obama wins in states where he has expanded the electoral map, like Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, or Virginia. ‘If all these Rust Belt folks get together and make this happen, that could be really dramatic,’ says Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which coordinates state political races for the Dems.

“Democrats would not be able to retaliate. The only states that John McCain won where Dems control both houses of the state legislature are Arkansas and West Virginia. West Virginia is too small for splitting the electoral votes to have much effect. That leaves Arkansas, another small state—and one where McCain won every district handily in 2008.”

***

“[Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic] Pileggi sees it differently. ‘I’m getting more complaints from Republicans!’ he says. ‘Some Republicans believe 2012 is going to be the year we win the popular vote in Pennsylvania again.’ He is thinking only of the commonwealth. ‘This would be good for Pennsylvania,’ Pileggi says. ‘The results would reflect which candidate won the popular vote. Is there a better way to closely conform the electoral vote to the popular vote? I’m open to suggestions.’…

“Take a look at Florida, a swing state that voted for Obama in 2008. He won 52 percent of the vote, but only 10 of the state’s 25 districts. Had the Republican-run legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist rammed through a vote-split plan—and they easily could have—McCain would have been rejected by the voters of Florida, then grabbed 15 of their 27 electoral votes.

“Thus the full-scale Democratic freak-out about the Pileggi plan. Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin are all run by Republicans, Democrats point out, who could ram these plans through if they wanted. So far, none of them have made any moves toward doing so. But if every state had implemented the Pileggi plan in 2008, Obama would have won 307 electoral votes instead of 365.”

***

“The heat that would come on Pennsylvania GOP legislators would make the Wisconsin protests look like a tersely-worded letter of disapproval. Some Republicans are likely to be wary of a proposal that appears to ‘changing the rules after the game has started.’

“But most of these states have a simple political geography: vast swaths of Republican-leaning rural and sometimes suburban districts balanced by, and sometimes outweighted, by densely-packed, deeply Democratic urban districts. It’s not surprising that frustrated Republicans would tire of seeing their votes rendered moot by high (some would argue suspiciously high) turnout in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, etc. often gives Democrats the edge in these key states.

“The prize for the audacious move would be enormous for Republicans: They would establish, arguably, a GOP lock on the presidency until the country’s demographics and political geography changed.”

***

“The result of all this would be that presidential elections lose a great deal of their legitimacy.

“It would be entirely possible for a Republican to win the 2012 presidential election despite losing the popular vote by a solid margin and losing states containing a solid majority of electoral votes. Democrats would likely retaliate the next time they had a chance. Close presidential elections would wind up being decided by all sorts of odd chance events, rather than, you know, who wins the most votes. Yes, the current electoral college system does allow split results such as what happened in 2000, but that’s very different: clear, stable rules make it likely that everyone will accept the results.

“In short, it’s an absolutely outrageous plan, terrible for democracy and terrible for Pennsylvania. But extremely good for the short-term prospects of Republican presidential candidates.”

***

“On a policy level, I agree with James that this proposal may actually be a good idea.

“First of all, it maintains the Electoral College’s purpose of balancing large states against small ones, and regions against regions while at the same time addressing one of the biggest criticisms of the way that we elect Presidents. By tying at least one electoral vote in each state to a Congressional District, the proposal would put nearly every state into play in a Presidential election. Yes, the proposal would benefit Republicans in Pennsylvania, but it would likely benefit Democrats in states like Florida and Texas. In the end, the benefits would probably balance themselves out across the nation, and candidates would be forced to run a campaign that addresses the country as a whole, rather than one that merely focuses on a few big states.

“Second, the Congressional district allocation method has been tried before, and works. Both Nebraska and Maine have had this system in effect for several years and it’s worked just fine.

“Finally, it is completely constitutional.”

***

“According to our calculations, in 2008, President Obama won 52.7 percent of the national vote, but with his 365 electoral votes, he won 67.8 percent of the electoral college. But if every state in the country had used the congressional-district apportionment system in 2008, Obama would have won 301 electoral votes (242 districts, plus 56 for winning 28 states, plus 3 for D.C.), which is 55.4 percent of the electoral college. So in 2008, the congressional-district apportionment system would have more accurately reflected the popular vote, and it would have helped John McCain.

“In 2004, President Bush won 50.7 percent of the popular vote, and his 286 electoral votes represented 53.15 percent of the electoral college. Had every state in the country used the congressional-district apportionment system in 2004, Bush would have won 317 electoral votes (255 districts, plus 62 for winning 31 states), or 58.9 percent of the electoral college. So in 2004, the congressional-district apportionment system would have less accurately reflected the popular vote, and it would have helped … George W. Bush.

“Either way, splitting up electoral votes by congressional district helps the Republican. That’s because Democratic districts are more Democratic than Republican districts are Republican…

“The only way for the electoral college to accurately reflect the national popular vote is if the electoral college is directly tied to the popular vote.”