With the news media shining an ever-brighter spotlight on the race for the White House, the Pennsylvania GOP plan to change the way we allocate our electoral votes still lurks in the shadows.
“It will allow the people across the state to be better represented when it comes to the vote for president,” Governor Tom Corbett explained.
But the effect of the plan—and very possibly its intent—is to diminish the influence of Philadelphia in the decision over who will occupy the White House.
Currently, the winner of the popular vote in Pennsylvania gets all of the state’s electoral votes, even if the margin is narrow. Under the plan put forth by Sen. Dominic Pileggi, (R., Delaware County), the winner of the popular vote in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts would earn one electoral vote per district, with the state’s two remaining electoral votes going to the winner of the state’s popular vote.
The current system’s “winner-takes-all approach does not allow the Electoral College vote to accurately reflect the popular vote of the citizens in our state.” Sen. Pileggi wrote in an Inquirer opinion piece.
But Pileggi’s plan does not eliminate the winner-take-all system; it just moves it from the statewide level to the congressional district level.
Congressional districts are redrawn every ten years in a partisan process controlled by the party in power when new Census data is released. Is it fairer to have a winner-take-all system based on congressional district lines drawn to create safe seats and bolster the party in power? Or should the system be based on the borders of our state drawn by the founding fathers hundreds of years ago?
To understand the real implications of the Republican plan, it’s helpful to look at some public data from the past decade.
In 2001 the Republicans controlled the redistricting process that gave us the current congressional district lines, and they control it again today. The lines they drew gave mega-majorities to two Democratic congressmen who represent most of Philadelphia. Rep. Chaka Fattah won 89.3 percent of the vote in 2010 and Rep. Bob Brady, running unopposed, racked up 100 percent of the vote. (Pa. Secretary of State)
The rest of the state’s representatives won by much smaller margins, with Republicans and Democrats on more equal footing. That is why, despite a million-plus Democratic edge in voter registration, we have 11 Republican representatives and only eight Democratic representatives. Call it Harrisburg math.
Even in the Republican wave of 2010, more Pennsylvanians voted for Democratic House candidates than voted for Republican House candidates. If the 2012 vote for president mirrors that, Barack Obama will win the state’s popular vote, but earn fewer electoral votes than the Republican challenger.
Corbett, speaking on his radio show last month, said that other parts of Pennsylvania have not been represented in presidential elections because of the “huge Democratic turnout” in Philadelphia.
Last year, in a speech before Delaware County Republicans that was caught on video, Corbett remarked on Democrats’ hopes for a 50 percent voter turnout in Philadelphia.
“I don’t think he’s going to get 50 percent, but we want to make sure that they don’t get 50 percent. Keep that down,” Corbett said.
This is a disturbing pattern.
Republican Corbett sees electoral politics as Philadelphia versus the rest of the state. He is saying that greater turnout in Philadelphia equals less representation for Republicans elsewhere. This despite the fact that his party, just 37 percent of the electorate, controls both branches of the legislature, the Governor’s Mansion and the state’s congressional delegation.
Pennsylvania Republicans have seen their numbers steadily erode since 2004, and they recognize that voter turnout in Philadelphia is a threat to their majorities. They will eliminate another Democratic member of Congress in the next round of redistricting.
Pennsylvanians see through this. In a Quinnipiac survey, 57 percent agreed that the intent of the electoral scheme is “to help Republican presidential candidates, rather than to better reflect the will of the voters.”
Corbett and Pileggi have the motive to reduce Philadelphia’s influence, and through the Electoral College and the redistricting process, they have the means. Corbett’s comments on two occasions show evidence of intent.
Harrisburg Republicans should shift their focus to creating jobs in Pennsylvania rather than playing games with the electoral process. And Democrats throughout the state should see this for what it is: a desperate attempt by a fading party to maintain its disproportionate grip over the levers of power.
David Scholnick served as gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato’s press secretary for Southeast Pennsylvania.