A Pennsylvania lawmaker’s plan to divvy up electoral votes based on a presidential candidate’s public support may be just the first of many state legislative moves to alter the way the nation chooses a leader.
State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican from Chester, wants to replace the winner-take-all system, which gave President Barack Obama Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, with one that divides them to reflect the proportion of public support for each candidate. His method would have given 12 votes to Obama and eight to Republican Mitt Romney this year.
“Anyone who voted for Governor Romney, and many Pennsylvanians did, does not have any reflection of that vote in the electoral college vote,” Pileggi said. “This is a proposal that is not party specific or partisan in any way, but just an attempt to have the popular vote reflected in the electoral college vote.”
Pileggi’s proposal, which he asked senators in a memo to cosponsor, may be the first of a spate presented to lawmakers nationwide. Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University in Columbus and associate director of its Election Law @ Moritz center said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Republicans and Democrats seeking ways to “game the system” ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
If all states had used Pileggi’s method, the final outcome Nov. 6 wouldn’t have changed, though it would’ve narrowed Obama’s margin of victory, according a preliminary legislative analysis of the proposal. The president would’ve won 281 electoral votes to Romney’s 256. Obama won, 332 to 206.
Next year, at least 36 states will have one-party control of legislatures and governor’s offices, including Pennsylvania, according to MultiStates Associates Inc., a lobbying firm in Alexandria, Virginia.
“It’s never too early for partisan gamesmanship among partisan politicians,” Tokaji said.
Pileggi plans to introduce the bill next month. Last year he pushed a bill to carve up electoral votes based on results from congressional districts, to no avail.
Adopting a proportional method of allocation would lessen Pennsylvania’s importance as a swing state in national politics, Tokaji said. While Republicans control the Legislature and the governor’s office, voters have backed Democrats for president since 1992.
“Why would Pennsylvanians want to dilute their own state’s influence?” Tokaji said. “It doesn’t make any sense unless their goal is to advance the Republicans’ chance to win the White House. The motivation behind it is entirely partisan.”
Pileggi said he didn’t know how the state could have less importance, given the “very little campaigning” by Obama and Romney there. “The point is not what party is advantaged,” he said. “The point is, how do you best reflect the wishes of the citizens of Pennsylvania. And it’s not best done by the current winner-take-all system.”
Michigan, South Carolina and Virginia also had bills pending in 2011 and this year that would have altered their ways of tallying the votes, by allocating them based on congressional districts, according to Wendy Underhill, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
U.S. states cast Electoral College votes based on the size of their congressional delegations, with 270 required to win the presidency. Only two -- Maine and Nebraska -- don’t use a winner-take-all system favoring the candidate with the most popular support. The method was set up as a compromise between having Congress elect the nation’s leader and letting citizens make the choice directly.
Maine and Nebraska award their electoral votes partly based on results in each congressional district. Pileggi, backed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, first proposed shifting to a district-based system in September 2011. His bill met with criticism from Democrats, who said it aimed to boost the Republican candidate’s chances, and it never reached the floor.
A Corbett spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor hasn’t seen Pileggi’s proposal yet and had no comment on it.
Under the lawmaker’s proportional plan, two electoral votes would go to the statewide winner. The remaining 18 would be parceled out based on the percentage of the popular vote cast for each candidate. Since Obama won 52 percent Nov. 6, he would have gotten 52 percent of 18, rounded up to 10, plus the two awarded to the state victor.
If Pileggi’s plan passes, Pennsylvania would be the only state to use such a formula, according to the council of legislatures. None considered such an approach in legislative sessions this year or last, Underhill said.
The Keystone State did make a significant change in its election law this year, passing a measure requiring people to present photo identification to vote. The provision was suspended for Nov. 6 and faces a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims the law unfairly burdens minorities, the elderly and the poor.
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