Pennsylvania Electoral College Proposal Divides GOP Officals, Public

BY Quinn Bowman  September 28, 2011 at 10:56 AM EDT

Updated 1:00 p.m. ET | Republican elected officials at the state and national level are divided over a proposal from Pennsylvania Republican State Senate President Dominic Pileggi that would award the state’s Electoral College votes during presidential elections based on congressional district — instead of awarding all of the state’s 20 votes to the winner of the entire state.

As for the public, a new Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday shows 52 percent of registered voters in the state want to keep the winner-takes-all system, while 40 percent support Pileggi’s plan. Fifty-seven percent said they think Republicans want to change the voting system to benefit the party’s presidential candidate, not reflect the will of the voters. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.7 percentage points, and the survey included cell phones.

The proposal would change the Electoral College map significantly for the 2012 presidential election. Pennsylvania, which has gone to the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1988, is still a competitive battleground state likely to attract visits from the candidates and big spending from both parties in 2012.

Governor Tom Corbett, R-Pa., has endorsed the proposal, which could become law if the Republican-controlled General Assembly passes the bill and he signs it.

Corbett traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to meet with members of the Pennsylvania Republican Congressional delegation to talk about the proposal, according to Corbett’s office. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told the AP that Corbett made the trip at the request of the lawmakers.

Julia Thornton, press secretary of Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said that Kelly met with Corbett last Tuesday to talk about a variety of issues, including the Electoral College proposal. Rep. Kelly “is waiting to hear all positions before personally taking a position” on the Electoral College changes, Thornton said.

Both Maine and Nebraska use the congressional district model proposed by Pileggi — but the importance of Pennsylvania in the Electoral College system, and the potential that presidential campaigns would instead focus on the Pennsylvania congressional districts instead of the state as a whole, has some prominent Republicans, not to mention Democrats, less than eager to endorse the plan.

One of the most prominent critics is Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “This proposal will have a minimal effect on the presidential race at the expense of negatively altering the political landscape for Republicans in Pennsylvania’s House races,” Sessions said, according to the Wall Street Journal. And Politico reported that Pennsylvania State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason, as well as three Republican Congressman from swing districts in Pennsylvania, were against the proposal.

“We would no longer be a battleground state with all the benefits that come with that,” Gleason said, according to Politico. “It would affect us all the way down ticket. We’re gonna win the presidency here anyway, so why we would do this now when we’re at the top of the heap is beyond me.”

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters in Harrisburg, Pa. recently that he expects Republicans to win all 20 of Pennsylvania’s votes. Although Priebus took no position on the measure, his comments that the state is within the GOP’s grasp would suggest that the current system might play to their ultimate advantage.

The leading Democrat in the state senate fighting against the proposal is Sen. Daylin Leach. He told the NewsHour the proposal is an attempt to fix future elections against Democrats and that the congressional redistricting process underway this year in the state would be used to create the maximum amount of Republican Electoral College votes in 2012, while reducing the importance of the state in the presidential process.
“We’ve always respected our democratic heritage up until now,” Leach said.

“Pennsylvania is a battleground state, it gets a ton of attention, a ton of resources. The day this bill passes we become irrelevant to electoral campaigns,” Leach added. “We become Utah on the day this bill passes.” Leach said Democrats in the state are united against the proposal.

Erik Arneson, a spokesperson for Pileggi, said that he expects hearings on the bill to be held in October.

“Senator Pileggi’s proposal is intended to more fairly align Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes with the results of the popular vote, which would give voters across the state a more significant say in presidential elections,” Arneson said. “We do not believe any presidential candidate, nor any sitting president, will ignore a state with 12.7 million residents.”

For his part, Corbett hasn’t backed off his support of the Pileggi plan. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he said this on his radio show in Philadelphia last week:
“It will allow the people across the state to be better represented when it comes to the vote for president … There are huge portions of Pennsylvania that voted for the other candidate in many of the elections, and their vote really didn’t count.”

But just a few days later Corbett softened his support in comments to reporters. “I believe Sen. Pileggi’s bill has strong merit; it is more representative of Pennsylvania than the present system, but I’m keeping an open mind,” Corbett said, according to the Inquirer.

As the Pennsylvania General Assembly moves to consider this bill, expect more attention and more pressure on Pennsylvania state lawmakers as different factions of the Republican Party look to find their best hand to play for the 2012 elections and beyond.

Photo by Flickr user dougtone.