Despite a lack of indications that legislation bill is going anywhere, Democrats have embarked on a frenetic push against a proposal to change the way Pennsylvania allocates its electoral college votes.
On Saturday Democracy for America, the progressive group formed from Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, sent the latest in a steady stream of fundraising emails, press releases, online petitions, op-eds and press conferences about the issue.
Alleging that a Republican presidential hopeful “could also expect to win a majority of Pennsylvania’s votes, without winning a majority of PA voters,” DFA’s email directs supporters to sign this petition. So far 342 people have signed it.
“Led by Majority Leader Domini (sic) Pileggi, 13 Republican State Senators have introduced a bill to split the state’s electoral votes based on who wins each congressional district.”
Such petitions are used by DFA, Democrats, and virtually every advocacy group in both parties to build massive email lists which can, in turn, be monetized via fundraising emails.
DFA’s assertion is flatly inaccurate. The bill sponsored by Pileggi and 12 others has nothing to do with congressional districts and, had it been in effect for the 2012 election, would have given Barack Obama a majority of PA’s electoral college votes (12 out of 20).
The group appears to be referring to a 2011 Pileggi proposal which would have used congressional districts. Had that plan been in place, Mitt Romney would have won Pa. 13 votes to 7. A few state House Republicans currently are pushing a version of that plan.
Republicans in Harrisburg don’t have the issue on the front burner, and several privately admit that the bill is likely to go nowhere.
But DFA isn’t the only group pushing back against a passive foe. The Democratic National Committee and the Pa. Democratic Party have loudly protested the bill in recent weeks. They’re targeting Gov. Tom Corbett directly.
Sen. Bob Casey spoke out against the plan, Former Gov. Ed Rendell wrote a blast email against it for the DNC, State Sen. Vincent Hughes starred in a DNC press call (Rep. Chaka Fattah had been scheduled to join but apparently had to cancel), State Sen. Matt Smith penned an op-ed against it.
Democrats and liberal groups have sent at least 45 emails to reporters on the subject since the beginning of March, including 17 In the past week alone.
All of this over a bill that is gathering dust in committee.
Unlikely to pass
For myriad reasons, the bill is unlikely to make it to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk. The first is that beyond introducing the legislation, Sen. Pileggi has not shown any sign of actively pushing it.
His spokesman has repeated that Pileggi wants the bill to generate conversation but does not consider it a top priority.
It presently sits in the Senate State Government Committee, which comprises 7 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Passage there is not a sure bet; 2 of those Republicans are Sens. Mike Brubaker and Mike Folmer, who voted against the GOP’s congressional redistricting plan. Though Folmer has co-sponsored Pileggi’s bill, he is known as a good government reformer and unlikely to go along should his party try to quickly jam such a significant issue.
In the full Senate, other GOP members have demonstrated wariness on similar issues in the recent past.
Dems playing smart
Yet Democrats are making a smart play by drawing attention to the issue for three big reasons.
First, there is no guarantee that the legislation won’t unexpectedly gain life and sprint to a vote in both chambers, leaving Dems little chance to fight the measure. Statements by Corbett about similar proposals make it seem likely that he would sign such a bill. For them, it’s better to try and taint the bill early.
Second, they’re winning the issue. Democrats successfully pushed public relation campaigns against similar measures in other states such as Michigan and Virginia. Tinkering with a system of elections that goes back generations could so easily be painted as a power grab that that itself makes swing district lawmakers less likely to support it.
Finally, it’s working. According to two party operatives, the issue has yielded an above-average rate of response both in email gathering and online fundraising.
For Democrats, the issue has utility similar to that of the Voter ID law.
To editorialize: aside soothing the feelings of Republicans tired of their state going blue, it appears unlikely that the bill as written would benefit Pennsylvania. It would unconditionally surrender the Commonwealth’s long-standing status as a presidential battleground state. Though the 2012 candidates didn’t spend much time here, no one can say what future campaigns will bring.
Those interested in genuine electoral college reform should follow the footsteps of other states. 8 of them plus DC have passed laws that will tie their electoral college outcomes over to the popular vote – but only after states representing a majority of electoral college votes (270) have agreed to do the same.
Thus they pursue a national popular vote, yet none does so at its own individual disadvantage.
All 8 are non-swing states that generally vote for Democrats: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland and Hawaii Vermont. They represent 49% of the threshold for the transition.