Murmurs of GOP Opposition to Electoral College Changes

By Keegan Gibson and Brittany Foster

2008 presidential election results by district, courtesy of CQ

It’s an issue that has gone from scattered conversations among Harrisburg staffers to national news (The Hill, National Review, Mother Jones, Slate, MSNBC, etc).

A Republican plan to change the way Pennsylvania allocates its electoral college votes in Presidential elections has rapidly gained steam over the past few days, turning a once long-shot reform into a likelihood.

PA Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi wants PA to distribute electoral college votes not on the current winner-take-all system, but instead base it on congressional districts (the presidential candidate gets one vote per district, the statewide winner gets a bonus two for the state’s U.S. Senators). It quickly gained public support from Governor Corbett and PA House Majority Leader Mike Turzai.

Pileggi’s Chief of Staff Erik Arneson says the bill will move forward, even without a single Democratic vote.

“In the end, we think it’s what’s most fair for the state and we think it would get done,” said Arneson. “I can’t control what the Democrats do. If it comes to that, and a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate are supportive and that happens not to include any Democrats, that’s certainly possible and would not stop us from trying to advance the bill.”

For more background, check out this excellent piece by Pete DeCoursey at Capitolwire (paywall), as well as articles in the Morning Call, the Inquirer, John Baer’s column in the Daily News, and the Post-Gazette story that took the news national.

Sources close to President Obama’s re-election campaign say that national Democrats are closely watching the proposal. PA Democrats are pushing back.

“This is an obscene, transparent, blatantly partisan change in the rules, designed for one purpose only; to help Republican Presidential candidates,” wrote PA Sen. Daylin Leach in an op-ed. “Republican leaders are distressed that their candidates have lost Pennsylvania in the past five elections, and they wish to correct this problem, not by fielding better candidates or making more compelling arguments, but by stacking the deck to ensure their nominees receive the majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, regardless of how the people of our state actually vote.”

Legally, there is nothing Democrats can do to stop the legal, constitutional bill. Their only hope is to win the public argument.

But they may get some help.

Republican opposition

Take a look at the suburban Philadelphia swing districts – currently represented by Republicans Jim Gerlach, Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan, and Charlie Dent – and examine the results of the last presidential election. In 2008, Obama won Gerlach’s district by 19 points, Fitzpatrick’s by 9, and Meehan’s and Dent’s by 13 each.

It’s not hard to imagine why some of these members are nervous about the proposal, and uncomfortable with the idea of the full force of a presidential campaign trying to turn out Democratic voters in 2012 and beyond.

“If I’m Jim Gerlach or Mike Fitzpatrick, I’m telling my allies in Harrisburg to push back against this with leadership,” said one PA-based GOP consultant with ties to all four southeast PA Republican congressmen.

The Morning Call checked in with two of those four members:

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican who represents the Lehigh Valley, worried about the political effect on non-presidential races. “I’m probably a little reluctant to be supportive of it … on political grounds,” he said.

The move could cause political heartburn for Republican congressmen in marginal seats around Philadelphia, who usually are spared a big get-out-the-vote effort by the Democratic Party.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach acknowledged that the increased attention in his Chester County-based district could have an impact, but was reluctant to fully dismiss the idea.

“I’d like to learn a little more about why they think that’s a good idea for the commonwealth,” Gerlach said. “We’re going to talk about it as a delegation this week to get some sense of our members, what we think the pros and cons of that might be.”

And some DC Republicans aren’t thrilled either – not just from a congressional perspective, but because it looks like the party is throwing in the towel on Pennsylvania in 2012.

“Have you seen [Obama]’s numbers in Pennsylvania? He is highly vulnerable next year. We don’t to win Pennsylvania in 2012 and have an asterisk next to it,” said one source close to the Republican National Committee.

Update: We neglected to include this snippet from DeCoursey’s column:

But some party establishment figures, led by Republican State Committee Chairman Rob Gleason, have pushed back. Gleason, who declined to discuss the bill Tuesday due to a busy schedule, told bill supporters not to do this, and many other GOP heavyweights in the state party, even those allied with Gleason only in public most of the time, are taking his side.

Gleason told advocates of this that after his party-building in Philadelphia and its suburbs, he expects to win all 20 of the state’s electoral votes for the GOP candidate. Other party establishment figures have also weighed in against the idea, and one legislative leader supporting the idea said: “There has been a lot of pushback. This can look bad, and if we end up taking electoral votes from our nominee, that is the worst of all possible worlds: we look bad politically and hurt our candidate.”

September 14th, 2011 | Posted in Congress, Front Page Stories, Harrisburg, Presidential, Redistricting Watch | 18 Comments

18 thoughts on “Murmurs of GOP Opposition to Electoral College Changes”

  1. SC Guy says:

    I say go for it. This winner-takes-all electoral college system has always been mickey mouse and I think we can do better. Look at how 3 of the nation’s largest states are simply written off as unwinnable one or the other sides: California, New York and Texas. Clearly, something needs to change. I think that this PA system could really be good and start a positive trend in the nation.

  2. oldgulph says:

    Republican legislators seem quite “confused” about the merits of the congressional district method. In Nebraska, Republican legislators are now saying they must change from the congressional district method to go back to state winner-take-all, while in Pennsylvania, Republican legislators are just as strongly arguing that they must change from the winner-take-all method to the congressional district method.

    Dividing Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system and not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania.

    The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all Pennsylvania districts and would not focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state as a whole. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 Pennsylvania congressional districts were competitive.

    In Maine, where they award electoral votes by congressional district, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored).

    In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) two-thirds of the state were irrelevant.

    When votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When votes don’t matter, they ignore those areas.

    Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Seven-eighths of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

    Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.

  3. oldgulph says:

    The Republic is not in any danger from National Popular Vote. It has nothing to do with direct democracy.

    Under National Popular Vote, citizens would not rule directly but, instead, continue to elect the President by a majority of Electoral College votes, to represent them and conduct the business of government in the periods between elections.

    The National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the “mob” in the current handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive, are ignored, in presidential elections. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states.

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

  4. oldgulph says:

    The presidential election system we have today is not in the Constitution, and enacting National Popular Vote would not need an amendment. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award Electoral College votes, are an example of state laws eventually enacted by states, using their exclusive power to do so, AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, Now our current system can be changed by state laws again.

    Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution– “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected. Indeed, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

    The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

    As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner-take-all method– a reminder that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not required to change the way the President is elected.

    The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.

  5. Judy Brown says:

    I spoke to a meeting last night. They like the idea that their vote would count if their congressional district went the way they voted. They do not like that Pittsburgh and Philly population control our Presidential elections.

  6. I respectfully disagree , for the following reasons:

    It does not turn the country into a democracy, it is still representative government. Changing how a state divides its electoral votes would be more representative of the states voters. This would seriously affect the election dynamic in non-urban areas.

    The 17th amendment undermined states representation and was a flawed fix to a problem which threw the balance out for the small states. The impact has been devastating. Do you think the states would tolerate the federal government going on wild spending sprees and not passing budgets?

    This would get rid of the strategy of only having to campaign in the largest electoral vote states and urban areas if adopted nationwide. It is NOT the same as a popular vote change. In fact, this somewhat insures that urban vote fraud lessens its impact to specific districts as opposed to entire states.

    It is the majority of voters who decide elections, not the majority of people. Those who have a vested interest tend to show up and vote to continue the status quo. Those who are the ones footing the bills often times stay home. So we have a perverted mob rule now because those in the mob for the cash know that the vote is tied to the government atm machine.

  7. Judy Brown says:

    The National Popular vote turns the country into a democracy which if you know your history is ‘mob rule.’ If the founders wanted a democracy they would have included it in our constitution. The Electoral College was created so small states would have a say. Of course our schools teach that we live in a democracy not a Republic even though the word democracy is not found in our constitution. If our schools taught the truth people would understand Democracies fail. Changing our country from the Electoral College to the National Popular Vote would require a Constitutional Amendment. Doing it on the state level is an end run around our constitution.

  8. oldgulph says:

    A survey of 800 Pennsylvania voters conducted on December 16-17, 2008 showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
    Support was 87% among Democrats, 68% among Republicans, and 76% among independents.
    By age, support was 77% among 18-29 year olds, 73% among 30-45 year olds, 81% among 46-65 year olds, and 78% for those older than 65.
    By gender, support was 85% among women and 71% among men.

    NationalPopularVote.com

  9. oldgulph says:

    Republican legislators seem quite confused about the merits of the congressional district method. In Nebraska, Republican legislators are now saying they must change from the congressional district method to go back to state winner-take-all. While in Pennsylvania, Republican legislators are just as strongly arguing that they must change from the winner-take-all method to the congressional district method.

    Dividing Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system and not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania.

    The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all Pennsylvania districts and would not focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state as a whole. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 Pennsylvania congressional districts were competitive.

    In Maine, where they award electoral votes by congressional district, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored).

    In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) two-thirds of the state were irrelevant.

    When votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When votes don’t matter, they ignore those areas.

    Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Seven-eighths of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

    Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.

  10. oldgulph says:

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill is a state-based approach. It preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded in the Electoral College. It assures that every vote is equal and that every voter will matter in every state in every presidential election, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states would get the 270+ Electoral College votes from the enacting states. That majority of Electoral College votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states wins the presidency.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate. With National Popular Vote, elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president.

    To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population.

  11. Melodie says:

    We need to get rid of the Electoral college altogether. We don’t have to wait WEEKS any more to get the west coast votes in on horseback. This is what the Electoral College was designed for. Also, the population growth, the use of mechanical vote counts… all these thinks point to a lack of need for the EC. We need to move toward instant runoff elections. That way EVERY vote actually counts.

  12. Judy Brown says:

    The National Popular Vote turns our country and state into a democracy rather than a republic. It is designed to be an end run to getting rid of the Electoral College.

  13. angledge says:

    Why don’t they join the National Popular Vote movement instead?

    http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

    If they really want the will of the people to guide the election of the President, this is the way to go.

  14. David Darby says:

    10 years ago the GOP drew a crazy redistricting map and was burned. Now they are contemplating this scheme. The GOP consultant is right. The Dems would just take what they could get and put all their resources into taking out Dent, Meehan, Fitzpatrick, and maybe Murphy.

  15. susan says:

    Adam is absolutely right.

  16. Adam says:

    Also, if this is about fairness and good government, then how about pairing this with a proposal to de-politicize redistricting? The GOP is doing this change and drawing new CD boundaries at the same time. How rigged must the system be for the GOP to satisfy their corporate masters?

  17. Adam says:

    Republicans talk about how much they care about the economy, but then the advocate something like this! PA communities stand to lose millions of dollars that would be spent on the ground here on events, staff, hotels, food, etc. Most of the $$$ raised by Presidential campaigns goes on TV, but there is still millions of dollars that will be spent on field organizations. PA stands to lose big time as both Presidential campaigns will decline to spend money organizing in safe D or safe R districts.

  18. David Diano says:

    It would be ironic if it caused such a backlash that it got the GOP out of power in the legislature.

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