State Senate panel debates distribution of electoral college

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HARRISBURG -- Proposals to tweak how Pennsylvania votes for president abounded here today, with state senators debating the merits of changing how electoral votes are handed out and others pushing to switch to a straight popular vote.

Supporters and opponents of the controversial proposal to allocate the state's electoral votes based on the winner of each congressional district, rather than using a "winner-takes-all" system, testified for several hours before the Senate State Government Committee.

The measure is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, but a strong statement in support came from a top aide to Gov. Tom Corbett.

Luke Bernstein, deputy chief of staff to Mr. Corbett, said the current winner-takes-all system disenfranchises those who vote for the losing presidential candidate. He pointed to the 1988 election, in which Democrat Michael Dukakis lost by only 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania to Republican George H. W. Bush, but that all 25 electoral votes went to Mr. Bush.

"We need to let each voter and each region of this state choose which candidate they think best represents their interests," Mr. Bernstein said.

But a panel of political scientists from two Pennsylvania colleges suggested that the switch would potentially decrease voter turnout, particularly in districts that are heavily dominated by one political party.

That change also is flawed in its reliance on congressional districts, which Chris Borick of Muhlenberg College in Allentown described as "gerrymandered monstrosities" that are "the product of partisan efforts to secure certain outcomes."

That drew some uncomfortable glances among the lawmakers, who are tasked this fall with redrawing the state's congressional and legislative district boundaries.

Meanwhile, a group called the National Popular Vote initiative was stumping elsewhere in the Capitol, joined by former GOP presidential candidate and Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.

That organization is recruiting states to join a compact under which, if enough states join, they would award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Currently nine states, representing 132 electoral votes, have backed the effort.

That system, said Mr. Thompson and others, would better prepare a president by encouraging candidates to travel to more states and would allow for votes to be counted more equally.


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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